Survival of mature mouse olfactory sensory neurons labeled genetically perinatally

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Abstract

The main olfactory epithelium (MOE) of an adult mouse harbors a few million mature olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs), which are traditionally defined as mature by their expression of the olfactory marker protein (OMP). Mature OSNs differentiate in situ from stem cells at the base of the MOE. The consensus view is that mature OSNs have a defined lifespan and then undergo programmed cell death, and that the adult MOE maintains homeostasis by generating new mature OSNs from stem cells. But there is also evidence for mature OSNs that are long-lived. Thus far modern genetic tools have not been applied to quantify survival of a population of OSNs that are mature at a given point in time. Here, a genetic strategy was developed to label irreversibly OMP-expressing OSNs in mice. A gene-targeted OMP-CreERT2 strain was generated in which mature OSNs express an enzymatically inactive version of the Cre recombinase. The fusion protein CreERT2 becomes transiently active when exposed to tamoxifen, and in the presence of a Cre reporter in the genome such as tdRFP, CreERT2-expressing cells become irreversibly labeled. A cohort of mice was generated with the same day of birth by in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer, and injected tamoxifen in their mothers at E18.5 of gestation. I counted RFP immunoreactive cells in the MOE and vomeronasal organ of 36 tamoxifen-exposed OMP-CreERT2 × tdRFP mice from 7 age groups: postnatal day (PD)1.5, PD3.5, PD6.5, 3 weeks, 9 weeks, 6 months, and 12 months. Approximately 7.8% of perinatally labeled cells remain at 12 months, confirming that some mature OSNs are indeed long-lived. The survival curve of the population of perinatally labeled MOE cells can be modeled with a mean half-life of 26 days for the population as a whole, excluding the long-lived cells.

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