We generated transgenic mice carrying enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP) under the control of the nestin second-intronic enhancer (E/nestin:EGFP). Flow cytometry followed by in vitro assays revealed that in situ EGFP expression in the embryonic brain correlated with the mitotic index, the cogeneration of both neurons and glia, and the frequency of neurosphere formation in vitro. High-level EGFP expressors derived from embryos included a distinct subpopulation of cells that were self-renewable and multipotent, criteria that define neural stem cells (NSCs). Such cells were largely absent among lower-level or non-EGFP expressors, thereby permitting us to enrich for NSCs using EGFP expression level. In adults, although E/nestin:EGFP-positive cells included the NSC population, the frequency of neurosphere formation did not correlate directly with the level of EGFP expression. However, moderately EGFP-expressing cells in adults gained EGFP intensity when they formed neurospheres, suggesting embryonic and adult NSCs exist in different microenvironments in vivo.
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