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Genetic Tags Illuminate Where Neurons Extend

Barcodes of mRNA travel to the cells' axon terminals, offering a sequencing-based approach to neural mapping.

ruth williams
Ruth Williams

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© GEORGE RETSECK

FOLLOW THE mRNA

To determine where in the mouse brain individual neurons have axon terminals, researchers inject a library of viral vectors in the vicinity of cell bodies. The viruses contain plasmids each encoding a unique
RNA barcode and a presynaptic protein called MAPP-nλ that will shuttle the barcoded mRNA to the ends of the axon. Typically, each cell takes up only one virus, giving that cell an RNA identifier. Dissecting brain regions and sequencing the RNAs reveals which cells project where.

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