Strategies for conditional induction of transgene expression in mice are likely to be valuable for testing the role of candidate genes in disease pathogenesis. We have developed a system for lineage-specific, ligand-dependent, induction of sustained transgene expression in fibroblastic cells in mice using a chimeric gene encoding the Cre-ER(T) fusion protein, under the control of a fibroblast-specific regulatory sequence from the pro alpha 2(I)collagen gene. Cre-ER(T) operates as a tamoxifen-dependent DNA recombinase to excise fragments flanked by specific LoxP consensus sequences. To test efficiency and ligand dependency of this strategy, Cre-ER(T)-expressing mice were backcrossed with heterozygous ROSA26-LacZ reporter mice, in which a floxed-STOP cassette has been introduced upstream of a bacterial beta-galactosidase (LacZ) reporter gene at a ubiquitously expressed locus. Constitutive or tamoxifen-induced LacZ expression was examined in embryonic, neonatal, and adult compound-transgenic mice. When pregnant ROSA26-LacZ females received a single dose of tamoxifen, high-level expression of LacZ in the skin was demonstrable from 24 hours after injection in double-transgenic embryos harboring both the Cre-ER(T) transgene and the target ROSA26-LacZ allele. High-level expression of LacZ was also induced postnatally by tamoxifen specifically in dermal and visceral fibroblasts. By allowing efficient embryonic or postnatal modification of alleles that have been targeted to incorporate LoxP sites, or to switch on transgenes cloned downstream of the floxed-STOP cassette, this system will allow fibroblast-specific genetic perturbations to be induced at predetermined embryonic or postnatal time points. This should greatly assist in in vivo functional studies of candidate genes in fibrotic diseases such as systemic sclerosis.
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