Structural Neural Connectivity Analysis in Zebrafish With Restricted Anterograde Transneuronal Viral Labeling and Quantitative Brain Mapping

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The unique combination of small size, translucency, and powerful genetic tools makes larval zebrafish a uniquely useful vertebrate system to investigate normal and pathological brain structure and function. While functional connectivity can now be assessed by optical imaging (via fluorescent calcium or voltage reporters) at the whole-brain scale, it remains challenging to systematically determine structural connections and identify connectivity changes during development or disease. To address this, we developed Tracer with Restricted Anterograde Spread (TRAS), a novel vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV)-based neural circuit labeling approach. TRAS makes use of replication-incompetent VSV (VSV Delta G) and a helper virus (lentivirus) to enable anterograde transneuronal spread between efferent axons and their direct postsynaptic targets but restricts further spread to downstream areas. We integrated TRAS with the Z-Brain zebrafish 3D atlas for quantitative connectivity analysis and identified targets of the retinal and habenular efferent projections, in patterns consistent with previous reports. We compared retinofugal connectivity patterns between wild-type and down syndrome cell adhesion molecule-like 1 (dscaml1) mutant zebrafish and revealed differences in topographical distribution. These results demonstrate the utility of TRAS for quantitative structural connectivity analysis that would be valuable for detecting novel efferent targets and mapping connectivity changes underlying neurological or behavioral deficits.



transsynaptic, zebrafish, VSV, brain mapping, viral tracing