Founded in 2001, the Department of Neurobiology at UMass Chan Medical School has evolved into a unique and integrated hub of investigators addressing fundamental problems in neurobiology, from single molecules to behavior, primarily using invertebrate model organisms. Combining cell biological, physiological and behavioral analyses with a critical interventionist angle afforded by cutting-edge genetic approaches, the Department aims to understand the complexity of brain development and function. This collection showcases journal articles and other publications authored by Neurobiology faculty and researchers. Use the “UMass Chan Affiliation” Filter by Category in the left sidebar to see the publications produced by a specific lab.

Read more about the Neurobiology collections


Contact escholarship@umassmed.edu with your questions.

Recently Published

  • Lipofuscin-like autofluorescence within microglia and its impact on studying microglial engulfment

    Stillman, Jacob M; Mendes Lopes, Francisco; Lin, Jing-Ping; Hu, Kevin; Reich, Daniel S; Schafer, Dorothy P (2023-11-03)
    Engulfment of cellular material and proteins is a key function for microglia, a resident macrophage of the central nervous system (CNS). Among the techniques used to measure microglial engulfment, confocal light microscopy has been used the most extensively. Here, we show that autofluorescence (AF) likely due to lipofuscin (lipo-AF) and typically associated with aging, can also be detected within microglial lysosomes in the young mouse brain by light microscopy. This lipo-AF signal accumulates first within microglia and it occurs earliest in white versus gray matter. Importantly, in gray matter, lipo-AF signal can confound the interpretation of antibody-labeled synaptic material within microglia in young adult mice. We further show that there is an age-dependent accumulation of lipo-AF inside and outside of microglia, which is not affected by amyloid plaques. We finally implement a robust and cost-effective strategy to quench AF in mouse, marmoset, and human brain tissue.
  • Sexually dimorphic mechanisms of VGLUT-mediated protection from dopaminergic neurodegeneration [preprint]

    Buck, Silas A; Rubin, Sophie A; Kunkhyen, Tenzin; Treiber, Christoph D; Xue, Xiangning; Fenno, Lief E; Mabry, Samuel J; Sundar, Varun R; Yang, Zilu; Shah, Divia; et al. (2023-10-03)
    Parkinson's disease (PD) targets some dopamine (DA) neurons more than others. Sex differences offer insights, with females more protected from DA neurodegeneration. The mammalian vesicular glutamate transporter VGLUT2 and Drosophila ortholog dVGLUT have been implicated as modulators of DA neuron resilience. However, the mechanisms by which VGLUT2/dVGLUT protects DA neurons remain unknown. We discovered DA neuron dVGLUT knockdown increased mitochondrial reactive oxygen species in a sexually dimorphic manner in response to depolarization or paraquat-induced stress, males being especially affected. DA neuron dVGLUT also reduced ATP biosynthetic burden during depolarization. RNA sequencing of VGLUT+ DA neurons in mice and flies identified candidate genes that we functionally screened to further dissect VGLUT-mediated DA neuron resilience across PD models. We discovered transcription factors modulating dVGLUT-dependent DA neuroprotection and identified dj-1β as a regulator of sex-specific DA neuron dVGLUT expression. Overall, VGLUT protects DA neurons from PD-associated degeneration by maintaining mitochondrial health.
  • A 4D transcriptomic map for the evolution of multiple sclerosis-like lesions in the marmoset brain [preprint]

    Lin, Jing-Ping; Brake, Alexis; Donadieu, Maxime; Lee, Amanda; Kawaguchi, Riki; Sati, Pascal; Geschwind, Daniel H; Jacobson, Steven; Schafer, Dorothy P; Reich, Daniel S (2023-09-27)
    Single-time-point histopathological studies on postmortem multiple sclerosis (MS) tissue fail to capture lesion evolution dynamics, posing challenges for therapy development targeting development and repair of focal inflammatory demyelination. To close this gap, we studied experimental autoimmune encephalitis (EAE) in the common marmoset, the most faithful animal model of these processes. Using MRI-informed RNA profiling, we analyzed ~600,000 single-nucleus and ~55,000 spatial transcriptomes, comparing them against EAE inoculation status, longitudinal radiological signals, and histopathological features. We categorized 5 groups of microenvironments pertinent to neural function, immune and glial responses, tissue destruction and repair, and regulatory network at brain borders. Exploring perilesional microenvironment diversity, we uncovered central roles of EAE-associated astrocytes, oligodendrocyte precursor cells, and ependyma in lesion formation and resolution. We pinpointed imaging and molecular features capturing the pathological trajectory of WM, offering potential for assessing treatment outcomes using marmoset as a platform.
  • Identifying new players in structural synaptic plasticity through dArc1 interrogation

    Xiao, Cong; M'Angale, P Githure; Wang, Shuhao; Lemieux, Adrienne; Thomson, Travis (2023-09-27)
    The formation, expansion, and pruning of synapses, known as structural synaptic plasticity, is needed for learning and memory, and perturbation of plasticity is associated with many neurological disorders and diseases. Previously, we observed that the Drosophila homolog of Activity-regulated cytoskeleton-associated protein (dArc1), forms a capsid-like structure, associates with its own mRNA, and is transported across synapses. We demonstrated that this transfer is needed for structural synaptic plasticity. To identify mRNAs that are modified by dArc1 in presynaptic neuron and postsynaptic muscle, we disrupted the expression of dArc1 and performed genomic analysis with deep sequencing. We found that dArc1 affects the expression of genes involved in metabolism, phagocytosis, and RNA-splicing. Through immunoprecipitation we also identified potential mRNA cargos of dArc1 capsids. This study suggests that dArc1 acts as a master regulator of plasticity by affecting several distinct and highly conserved cellular processes.
  • A single neuron in C. elegans orchestrates multiple motor outputs through parallel modes of transmission

    Huang, Yung-Chi; Luo, Jinyue; Huang, Wenjia; Baker, Casey M; Gomes, Matthew A; Meng, Bohan; Byrne, Alexandra B; Flavell, Steven W (2023-09-21)
    Animals generate a wide range of highly coordinated motor outputs, which allows them to execute purposeful behaviors. Individual neurons in the circuits that generate behaviors have a remarkable capacity for flexibility as they exhibit multiple axonal projections, transmitter systems, and modes of neural activity. How these multi-functional properties of neurons enable the generation of adaptive behaviors remains unknown. Here, we show that the HSN neuron in C. elegans evokes multiple motor programs over different timescales to enable a suite of behavioral changes during egg laying. Using HSN activity perturbations and in vivo calcium imaging, we show that HSN acutely increases egg laying and locomotion while also biasing the animals toward low-speed dwelling behavior over minutes. The acute effects of HSN on egg laying and high-speed locomotion are mediated by separate sets of HSN transmitters and different HSN axonal compartments. The long-lasting effects on dwelling are mediated in part by HSN release of serotonin, which is taken up and re-released by NSM, another serotonergic neuron class that directly evokes dwelling. Our results show how the multi-functional properties of a single neuron allow it to induce a coordinated suite of behaviors and also reveal that neurons can borrow serotonin from one another to control behavior.
  • A comparative analysis of microglial inducible Cre lines

    Faust, Travis E; Feinberg, Philip A; O'Connor, Ciara; Kawaguchi, Riki; Chan, Andrew; Strasburger, Hayley; Frosch, Maximilian; Boyle, Margaret A; Masuda, Takahiro; Amann, Lukas; et al. (2023-08-26)
    Cre/loxP technology has revolutionized genetic studies and allowed for spatial and temporal control of gene expression in specific cell types. Microglial biology has particularly benefited because microglia historically have been difficult to transduce with virus or electroporation methods for gene delivery. Here, we investigate five of the most widely available microglial inducible Cre lines. We demonstrate varying degrees of recombination efficiency, cell-type specificity, and spontaneous recombination, depending on the Cre line and inter-loxP distance. We also establish best practice guidelines and protocols to measure recombination efficiency, particularly in microglia. There is increasing evidence that microglia are key regulators of neural circuits and major drivers of a broad range of neurological diseases. Reliable manipulation of their function in vivo is of utmost importance. Identifying caveats and benefits of all tools and implementing the most rigorous protocols are crucial to the growth of the field and the development of microglia-based therapeutics.
  • Regulation of Presynaptic Release Machinery by Cell Adhesion Molecules

    Uchigashima, Motokazu; Hayashi, Yasunori; Futai, Kensuke (2023-08-25)
    The synapse is a highly specialized asymmetric structure that transmits and stores information in the brain. The size of pre- and postsynaptic structures and function is well coordinated at the individual synapse level. For example, large postsynaptic dendritic spines have a larger postsynaptic density with higher α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazole propionic acid receptor (AMPAR) number on their surface, while juxtaposing presynaptic terminals have a larger active zone and higher release probability. This indicates that pre- and postsynaptic domains bidirectionally communicate to coordinate assembly of specific molecules on both sides of the synaptic cleft. Cell adhesion molecules (CAMs) that localize at synapses form transsynaptic protein interactions across the synaptic cleft and play important roles in synapse formation and regulation. The extracellular domain of CAMs is essential for specific synapse formation and function. In contrast, the intracellular domain is necessary for binding with synaptic molecules and signal transduction. Therefore, CAMs play an essential role on synapse function and structure. In fact, ample evidence indicates that transsynaptic CAMs instruct and modulate functions at presynaptic sites. This chapter focuses on transsynaptic protein interactions that regulate presynaptic functions emphasizing the role of neuronal CAMs and the intracellular mechanism of their regulation.
  • Thyroid hormone rewires cortical circuits to coordinate body-wide metabolism and exploratory drive [preprint]

    Hochbaum, Daniel R; Dubinsky, Alexandra C; Farnsworth, Hannah C; Hulshof, Lauren; Kleinberg, Giona; Urke, Amanda; Wang, Wengang; Hakim, Richard; Robertson, Keira; Park, Canaria; et al. (2023-08-10)
    Animals adapt to varying environmental conditions by modifying the function of their internal organs, including the brain. To be adaptive, alterations in behavior must be coordinated with the functional state of organs throughout the body. Here we find that thyroid hormone- a prominent regulator of metabolism in many peripheral organs- activates cell-type specific transcriptional programs in anterior regions of cortex of adult mice via direct activation of thyroid hormone receptors. These programs are enriched for axon-guidance genes in glutamatergic projection neurons, synaptic regulators across both astrocytes and neurons, and pro-myelination factors in oligodendrocytes, suggesting widespread remodeling of cortical circuits. Indeed, whole-cell electrophysiology recordings revealed that thyroid hormone induces local transcriptional programs that rewire cortical neural circuits via pre-synaptic mechanisms, resulting in increased excitatory drive with a concomitant sensitization of recruited inhibition. We find that thyroid hormone bidirectionally regulates innate exploratory behaviors and that the transcriptionally mediated circuit changes in anterior cortex causally promote exploratory decision-making. Thus, thyroid hormone acts directly on adult cerebral cortex to coordinate exploratory behaviors with whole-body metabolic state.
  • Feed-forward Activation of Habenula Cholinergic Neurons by Local Acetylcholine

    Chung, Leeyup; Jing, Miao; Li, Yulong; Tapper, Andrew R (2023-08-10)
    While the functional and behavioral role of the medial habenula (MHb) is still emerging, recent data indicate an involvement of this nuclei in regulating mood, aversion, and addiction. Unique to the MHb is a large cluster of cholinergic neurons that project to the interpeduncular nucleus and densely express acetylcholine receptors (AChRs) suggesting that the activity of these cholinergic neurons may be regulated by ACh itself. Whether endogenous ACh from within the habenula regulates cholinergic neuron activity has not been demonstrated. Supporting a role for ACh in modulating MHb activity, acetylcholinesterase inhibitors increased the firing rate of MHb cholinergic neurons in mouse habenula slices, an effect blocked by AChR antagonists and mediated by ACh which was detected via expressing fluorescent ACh sensors in MHb in vivo. To test if cholinergic afferents innervate MHb cholinergic neurons, we used anterograde and retrograde viral tracing to identify cholinergic inputs. Surprisingly, tracing experiments failed to detect cholinergic inputs into the MHb, including from the septum, suggesting that MHb cholinergic neurons may release ACh within the MHb to drive cholinergic activity. To test this hypothesis, we expressed channelrhodopsin in a portion of MHb cholinergic neurons while recording from non-opsin-expressing neurons. Light pulses progressively increased activity of MHb cholinergic neurons indicating feed-forward activation driven by MHb ACh release. These data indicate MHb cholinergic neurons may utilize a unique feed-forward mechanism to synchronize and increase activity by releasing local ACh.
  • Systems neuroscience: Foraging through serotonin's tangled web

    Yemini, Eviatar (2023-07-24)
    Serotonin signaling is conserved in regulating animal behaviors. A new paper decodes the nonlinear effects of all serotonin receptor combinations on foraging behaviors. The authors introduce a brain-wide multiscale method to dissect receptor dynamics, receptor effects on neural activity, and resulting behavioral changes.
  • Learning Probabilistic Piecewise Rigid Atlases of Model Organisms via Generative Deep Networks

    Nejatbakhsh, Amin; Dey, Neel; Venkatachalam, Vivek; Yemini, Eviatar; Paninski, Liam; Varol, Erdem (2023-06-08)
    Atlases are crucial to imaging statistics as they enable the standardization of inter-subject and inter-population analyses. While existing atlas estimation methods based on fluid/elastic/diffusion registration yield high-quality results for the human brain, these deformation models do not extend to a variety of other challenging areas of neuroscience such as the anatomy of C. elegans worms and fruit flies. To this end, this work presents a general probabilistic deep network-based framework for atlas estimation and registration which can flexibly incorporate various deformation models and levels of keypoint supervision that can be applied to a wide class of model organisms. Of particular relevance, it also develops a deformable piecewise rigid atlas model which is regularized to preserve inter-observation distances between neighbors. These modeling considerations are shown to improve atlas construction and key-point alignment across a diversity of datasets with small sample sizes including neuron positions in C. elegans hermaphrodites, fluorescence microscopy of male C. elegans, and images of fruit fly wings. Code is accessible at https://github.com/amin-nejat/Deformable-Atlas.
  • Expression of ALS-PFN1 impairs vesicular degradation in iPSC-derived microglia [preprint]

    Funes, Salome; Gadd, Del Hayden; Mosqueda, Michelle; Zhong, Jianjun; Jung, Jonathan; Shankaracharya; Unger, Matthew; Cameron, Debra; Dawes, Pepper; Keagle, Pamela J; et al. (2023-06-01)
    Microglia play a pivotal role in neurodegenerative disease pathogenesis, but the mechanisms underlying microglia dysfunction and toxicity remain to be fully elucidated. To investigate the effect of neurodegenerative disease-linked genes on the intrinsic properties of microglia, we studied microglia-like cells derived from human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), termed iMGs, harboring mutations in profilin-1 (PFN1) that are causative for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). ALS-PFN1 iMGs exhibited lipid dysmetabolism and deficits in phagocytosis, a critical microglia function. Our cumulative data implicate an effect of ALS-linked PFN1 on the autophagy pathway, including enhanced binding of mutant PFN1 to the autophagy signaling molecule PI3P, as an underlying cause of defective phagocytosis in ALS-PFN1 iMGs. Indeed, phagocytic processing was restored in ALS-PFN1 iMGs with Rapamycin, an inducer of autophagic flux. These outcomes demonstrate the utility of iMGs for neurodegenerative disease research and highlight microglia vesicular degradation pathways as potential therapeutic targets for these disorders.
  • Sensitive Timing: A Reappraisal of Chronobiology's Foundational Texts

    Emery, Patrick; Klarsfeld, André; Stanewsky, Ralf; Shafer, Orie T (2023-05-25)
    The origin of experimental chronobiology can be traced to observations made in the 18th and 19th centuries on the sensitive plant Mimosa, which were described in two seminal reports: Jean-Jacques d'Ortous de Mairan's "Observation Botanique" (A Botanical Observation) and Augustin Pyramus de Candolle's "Du sommeil des feuilles" (On the sleep of leaves). Both report observations of the striking daily closing and opening of Mimosa leaves in controlled environments. This review presents translations of both texts with the aim of staying as faithful as possible to the original French texts. We also present the historical context in which these texts were written and link them to subsequent experiments that aimed at testing the veracity of their central conclusions. In particular, we definitely establish that Mairan himself presented his work to the French Royal Academy of Sciences, while the published report of his observation was authored by Fontenelle, the Secretary of the Academy. In addition, we offer a translation of Mairan's own presentation, based on the hand-written minutes of the academy. Finally, we discuss the decades of work on plant rhythms that laid the foundation for modern experimental chronobiology, including translations and discussion of the insightful and prescient reports by Charles François de Cisternay Dufay, Henri Louis Duhamel du Monceau, Johann Gottfried Zinn, and Wilhelm Pfeffer, which describe their efforts to reproduce and extend Mairan's pioneering observations.
  • TrpA1 is a shear stress mechanosensing channel regulating intestinal stem cell proliferation in Drosophila

    Gong, Jiaxin; Nirala, Niraj K; Chen, Jiazhang; Wang, Fei; Gu, Pengyu; Wen, Qi; Ip, Y Tony; Xiang, Yang (2023-05-24)
    Adult stem cells are essential for tissue maintenance and repair. Although genetic pathways for controlling adult stem cells are extensively investigated in various tissues, much less is known about how mechanosensing could regulate adult stem cells and tissue growth. Here, we demonstrate that shear stress sensing regulates intestine stem cell proliferation and epithelial cell number in adult Drosophila. Ca2+ imaging in ex vivo midguts shows that shear stress, but not other mechanical forces, specifically activates enteroendocrine cells among all epithelial cell types. This activation is mediated by transient receptor potential A1 (TrpA1), a Ca2+-permeable channel expressed in enteroendocrine cells. Furthermore, specific disruption of shear stress, but not chemical, sensitivity of TrpA1 markedly reduces proliferation of intestinal stem cells and midgut cell number. Therefore, we propose that shear stress may act as a natural mechanical stimulation to activate TrpA1 in enteroendocrine cells, which, in turn, regulates intestine stem cell behavior.
  • Distinct Th17 effector cytokines differentially promote microglial and blood-brain barrier inflammatory responses during post-infectious encephalitis [preprint]

    Wayne, Charlotte R; Bremner, Luca; Faust, Travis E; Durán-Laforet, Violeta; Ampatey, Nicole; Ho, Sarah J; Feinberg, Philip A; Arvanitis, Panos; Ciric, Bogoljub; Ruan, Chunsheng; et al. (2023-05-09)
    Group A Streptococcus (GAS) infections can cause neuropsychiatric sequelae in children due to post-infectious encephalitis. Multiple GAS infections induce migration of Th17 lymphocytes from the nose into the brain, which are critical for microglial activation, blood-brain barrier (BBB) and neural circuit impairment in a mouse disease model. How endothelial cells (ECs) and microglia respond to GAS infections, and which Th17-derived cytokines are essential for these responses are unknown. Using single-cell RNA sequencing and spatial transcriptomics, we found that ECs downregulate BBB genes and microglia upregulate interferon-response, chemokine and antigen-presentation genes after GAS infections. Several microglial-derived chemokines were elevated in patient sera. Administration of a neutralizing antibody against interleukin-17A (IL-17A), but not ablation of granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) in T cells, partially rescued BBB dysfunction and microglial expression of chemokine genes. Thus, IL-17A is critical for neuropsychiatric sequelae of GAS infections and may be targeted to treat these disorders.
  • Cytokines as emerging regulators of central nervous system synapses

    Zipp, Frauke; Bittner, Stefan; Schafer, Dorothy P (2023-05-09)
    Cytokines are key messengers by which immune cells communicate, and they drive many physiological processes, including immune and inflammatory responses. Early discoveries demonstrated that cytokines, such as the interleukin family members and TNF-α, regulate synaptic scaling and plasticity. Still, we continue to learn more about how these traditional immune system cytokines affect neuronal structure and function. Different cytokines shape synaptic function on multiple levels ranging from fine-tuning neurotransmission, to regulating synapse number, to impacting global neuronal networks and complex behavior. These recent findings have cultivated an exciting and growing field centered on the importance of immune system cytokines for regulating synapse and neural network structure and function. Here, we highlight the latest findings related to cytokines in the central nervous system and their regulation of synapse structure and function. Moreover, we explore how these mechanisms are becoming increasingly important to consider in diseases-especially those with a large neuroinflammatory component.
  • TIR-1/SARM1 inhibits axon regeneration and promotes axon degeneration

    Czech, Victoria L; O'Connor, Lauren C; Philippon, Brendan; Norman, Emily; Byrne, Alexandra B (2023-04-21)
    Growth and destruction are central components of the neuronal injury response. Injured axons that are capable of repair, including axons in the mammalian peripheral nervous system and in many invertebrate animals, often regenerate and degenerate on either side of the injury. Here we show that TIR-1/dSarm/SARM1, a key regulator of axon degeneration, also inhibits regeneration of injured motor axons. The increased regeneration in tir-1 mutants is not a secondary consequence of its effects on degeneration, nor is it determined by the NADase activity of TIR-1. Rather, we found that TIR-1 functions cell-autonomously to regulate each of the seemingly opposite processes through distinct interactions with two MAP kinase pathways. On one side of the injury, TIR-1 inhibits axon regeneration by activating the NSY-1/ASK1 MAPK signaling cascade, while on the other side of the injury, TIR-1 simultaneously promotes axon degeneration by interacting with the DLK-1 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signaling cascade. In parallel, we found that the ability to cell-intrinsically inhibit axon regeneration is conserved in human SARM1. Our finding that TIR-1/SARM1 regulates axon regeneration provides critical insight into how axons coordinate a multidimensional response to injury, consequently informing approaches to manipulate the response toward repair.
  • Intravital Imaging of Fluorescent Protein Expression in Mice with a Closed-Skull Traumatic Brain Injury and Cranial Window Using a Two-Photon Microscope

    Zhong, Jianjun; Gunner, Georgia; Henninger, Nils; Schafer, Dorothy P; Bosco, Daryl A (2023-04-21)
    The goal of this protocol is to demonstrate how to longitudinally visualize the expression and localization of a protein of interest within specific cell types of an animal's brain, upon exposure to exogenous stimuli. Here, the administration of a closed-skull traumatic brain injury (TBI) and simultaneous implantation of a cranial window for subsequent longitudinal intravital imaging in mice is shown. Mice are intracranially injected with an adeno-associated virus (AAV) expressing enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP) under a neuronal specific promoter. After 2 to 4 weeks, the mice are subjected to a repetitive TBI using a weight drop device over the AAV injection location. Within the same surgical session, the mice are implanted with a metal headpost and then a glass cranial window over the TBI impacting site. The expression and cellular localization of EGFP is examined using a two-photon microscope in the same brain region exposed to trauma over the course of months.
  • Gliotransmission and adenosine signaling promote axon regeneration

    Wang, Fei; Ruppell, Kendra Takle; Zhou, Songlin; Qu, Yun; Gong, Jiaxin; Shang, Ye; Wu, Jinglin; Liu, Xin; Diao, Wenlin; Li, Yi; et al. (2023-04-06)
    How glia control axon regeneration remains incompletely understood. Here, we investigate glial regulation of regenerative ability differences of closely related Drosophila larval sensory neuron subtypes. Axotomy elicits Ca2+ signals in ensheathing glia, which activates regenerative neurons through the gliotransmitter adenosine and mounts axon regenerative programs. However, non-regenerative neurons do not respond to glial stimulation or adenosine. Such neuronal subtype-specific responses result from specific expressions of adenosine receptors in regenerative neurons. Disrupting gliotransmission impedes axon regeneration of regenerative neurons, and ectopic adenosine receptor expression in non-regenerative neurons suffices to activate regenerative programs and induce axon regeneration. Furthermore, stimulating gliotransmission or activating the mammalian ortholog of Drosophila adenosine receptors in retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) promotes axon regrowth after optic nerve crush in adult mice. Altogether, our findings demonstrate that gliotransmission orchestrates neuronal subtype-specific axon regeneration in Drosophila and suggest that targeting gliotransmission or adenosine signaling is a strategy for mammalian central nervous system repair.
  • Evidence for RNA or protein transport from somatic tissues to the male reproductive tract in mouse

    Rinaldi, Vera; Messemer, Kathleen; Desevin, Kathleen; Sun, Fengyun; Berry, Bethany C; Kukreja, Shweta; Tapper, Andrew R; Wagers, Amy J; Rando, Oliver J (2023-03-27)
    The development of tools to manipulate the mouse genome, including knockout and transgenic technology, has revolutionized our ability to explore gene function in mammals. Moreover, for genes that are expressed in multiple tissues or at multiple stages of development, the use of tissue-specific expression of the Cre recombinase allows gene function to be perturbed in specific cell types and/or at specific times. However, it is well known that putative tissue-specific promoters often drive unanticipated 'off-target' expression. In our efforts to explore the biology of the male reproductive tract, we unexpectedly found that expression of Cre in the central nervous system resulted in recombination in the epididymis, a tissue where sperm mature for ~1-2 weeks following the completion of testicular development. Remarkably, we not only observed reporter expression in the epididymis when Cre expression was driven from neuron-specific transgenes, but also when Cre expression in the brain was induced from an AAV vector carrying a Cre expression construct. A surprisingly wide range of Cre drivers - including six different neuronal promoters as well as the adipose-specific Adipoq Cre promoter - exhibited off-target recombination in the epididymis, with a subset of drivers also exhibiting unexpected activity in other tissues such as the reproductive accessory glands. Using a combination of parabiosis and serum transfer experiments, we find evidence supporting the hypothesis that Cre may be trafficked from its cell of origin to the epididymis through the circulatory system. Together, our findings should motivate caution when interpreting conditional alleles, and suggest the exciting possibility of inter-tissue RNA or protein trafficking in modulation of reproductive biology.

View more