The molecular mechanisms governing the differentiation of neural stem cells (NSCs) into neuronal progenitor cells and finally into neurons are gradually being revealed. The lack of convenient means for real-time determination of the stages of differentiation of individual neural cells, however, has been hindering progress in elucidating the mechanisms. In order to be able to easily identify the stages of differentiation of neural cells, we have been attempting to establish a mouse system that would allow progression of neuronal differentiation to be visualized based on transitions between fluorescence colors by using a combination of mouse genetics and the ever-expanding repertoire of fluorescent proteins. In this study we report the initial version of such a mouse system, which we call "Color Timer." We first generated transgenic (Tg; nestin/KOr Tg) mice in which production of the fluorescent protein Kusabira-Orange (KOr) is controlled by the gene regulatory elements within the 2nd intronic enhancer of the nestin gene, which is a good marker for NSCs, so that NSCs would emit orange fluorescence upon excitation. We then confirmed by immunohistochemical and immunocytochemical analyses that the KOr fluorescence closely reflected the presence of the Nestin protein. We also confirmed by a neurosphere formation assay that the intensity of the KOr fluorescence correlated with "stemness" of the cell and it was possible to readily identify NSCs in the two neurogenic regions, namely the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus and the subventricular zone of the lateral ventricle, in the brain of adult nestin/KOr Tg mice by the orange fluorescence they emitted. We then crossed nestin/KOr mice with doublecortin-enhanced Green Fluorescent Protein Tg mice, whose immature neurons emit green fluorescence upon excitation, and it was possible to visualize the progress of NSC-to-neuron differentiation by the transition between fluorescence colors from orange to green. This two-color initial version of the "Color Timer" mouse system will provide a powerful new tool for neurogenesis research.
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