Vesicular stomatitis virus enables gene transfer and transsynaptic tracing in a wide range of organisms

Nathan A. Mundell, Kevin T. Beier, Y. Albert Pan, Sylvain W. Lapan, Didem Göz Aytürk, Vladimir K. Berezovskii, Abigail R. Wark, Eugene Drokhlyansky, Jan Bielecki, Richard T. Born, Alexander F. Schier, Constance L. Cepko

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Current limitations in technology have prevented an extensive analysis of the connections among neurons, particularly within nonmammalian organisms. We developed a transsynaptic viral tracer originally for use in mice, and then tested its utility in a broader range of organisms. By engineering the vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) to encode a fluorophore and either the rabies virus glycoprotein (RABV-G) or its own glycoprotein (VSV-G), we created viruses that can transsynaptically label neuronal circuits in either the retrograde or anterograde direction, respectively. The vectors were investigated for their utility as polysynaptic tracers of chicken and zebrafish visual pathways. They showed patterns of connectivity consistent with previously characterized visual system connections, and revealed several potentially novel connections. Further, these vectors were shown to infect neurons in several other vertebrates, including Old and New World monkeys, seahorses, axolotls, and Xenopus. They were also shown to infect two invertebrates, Drosophila melanogaster, and the box jellyfish, Tripedalia cystophora, a species previously intractable for gene transfer, although no clear evidence of transsynaptic spread was observed in these species. These vectors provide a starting point for transsynaptic tracing in most vertebrates, and are also excellent candidates for gene transfer in organisms that have been refractory to other methods.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1639-1663
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Comparative Neurology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Aug 1 2015


  • AB_10562207
  • AB_531908
  • AB_591819
  • Anterograde
  • Centrifugal
  • In vivo
  • Polysynaptic
  • RRID: AB_10053281
  • Retina
  • Retrograde
  • SciRes_000161
  • Transsynaptic
  • VSV
  • Visual pathways

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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