The cholinergic gene locus (CGL) consists of the genes encoding the choline acetyltransferase (ChAT) and the vesicular acetylcholine transporter (VAChT). To establish a cholinergic-specific Cre-expressing mouse, we constructed a transgene expression vector (VAChT-Cre) with 11.3 kb human CGL in which a Cre-IRES-EGFP unit was inserted in the VAChT open reading frame. The activity of Cre, whose expression was driven by the VAChT promoter, was examined by crossing a reporter mouse (CAG-CAT-Z) in which expression of LacZ is activated upon Cre-mediated recombination. Transgenic lines with the VAChT-Cre construct displayed the restricted Cre expression in a subset of cholinergic neurons in the somatomotor nuclei and medial habenular nucleus, but absent in visceromotor and other central and peripheral cholinergic neurons. Cre expression was first observed at postnatal day 7 and later detected in -40-60% of somatomotor neurons. Based on the onset of Cre expression, we generated two mouse lines (two alleles; VAChT-Cre.Fast and VAChT-Cre.Slow) in which Cre expression reaches maximal levels fast and slow, respectively. The use of VAChT-Cre mice should allow us to deliver Cre to a subset of postnatal motor neurons, thereby bypassing lethality and facilitating analysis of gene function in adult motor neurons.
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