The chick embryo (Gallus domesticus) is one of the most important model systems in vertebrate developmental biology. The development and function of its auditory brainstem circuitry is exceptionally well studied. These circuits represent an excellent system for genetic manipulation to investigate mechanisms controlling neural circuit formation, synaptogenesis, neuronal polarity, and dendritic arborization. The present study investigates the auditory nucleus, nucleus magnocellularis (NM). The neurotrophin receptor TrkB regulates dendritic structure in CNS neurons. TrkB is expressed in NM neurons at E7-E8 when these neurons have dendritic arbors. Downregulation of TrkB occurs after E8 followed by retraction of dendrites and by E18 most NM cells are adendritic. Is cessation of TrkB expression in NM necessary for dendritic retraction? To answer this question we combined focal in ovo electroporation with transposon mediated gene transfer to obtain stable expression of Doxycycline (Dox) regulated transgenes, specifically TrkB coexpressed with EGFP in a temporally controlled manner. Electroporation was performed at E2 and Dox added onto the chorioallointoic membrane from E7.5 to E16. Expression of EGFP had no effect on development of the embryo, or cell morphology and organization of auditory brainstem nuclei. NM cells expressing EGFP and TrkB at E17-E18 had dendrites and biophysical properties uncharacteristic for normal NM cells, indicating that cessation of TrkB expression is essential for dendrite retraction and functional maturation of these neurons. These studies indicate that expression of transposon based plasmids is an effective method to genetically manipulate events in mid to late embryonic brain development in chick.
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