Understanding the function of broadly projecting neurons depends on comprehensive knowledge of the distribution and targets of their axon collaterals. While retrograde tracers and, more recently, retrograde viral vectors have been used to identify efferent projections, they have limited ability to reveal the full pattern of axon collaterals from complex, heterogeneous neuronal populations. Here we describe TrAC (tracing axon collaterals), an intersectional recombinase-based viral-genetic strategy that allows simultaneous visualization of axons from a genetically defined neuronal population and a projection-based subpopulation. To test this new method, we have applied TrAC to analysis of locus coeruleus norepinephrine (LC-NE)-containing neurons projecting to medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and primary motor cortex (M1) in laboratory mice. TrAC allowed us to label each projection-based LC-NE subpopulation, together with all remaining LC-NE neurons, in isolation from other noradrenergic populations. This analysis revealed mPFC-projecting and M1-projecting LC-NE subpopulations differ from each other and from the LC as a whole in their patterns of axon collateralization. Thus, TrAC complements and extends existing axon tracing methods by permitting analyses that have not previously been possible with complex genetically defined neuronal populations.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes