To study the profile and regulation of apolipoprotein E (apoE) expression in the CNS, we generated mice in which apoE expression can be detected in vivo with unprecedented sensitivity and resolution. cDNA encoding enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP) with a stop codon was inserted by gene targeting into the apoE gene locus (EGFPapoE) immediately after the translation initiation site. Insertion of EGFP into one apoE allele provides a real-time location marker of apoE expression in vivo; the remaining allele is sufficient to maintain normal cellular physiology. In heterozygous EGFPapoE mice, EGFP was highly expressed in hepatocytes and peritoneal macrophages. EGFP was also expressed in brain astrocytes; however some astrocytes (approximately 25%) expressed no EGFP, suggesting that a subset of these cells does not express apoE. EGFP was expressed in <10% of microglia after kainic acid treatment, suggesting that microglia are not a major source of brain apoE. Although hippocampal neurons did not express EGFP under normal conditions, kainic acid treatment induced intense expression of EGFP in injured neurons, demonstrating apoE expression in neurons in response to excitotoxic injury. The neuronal expression was confirmed by in situ hybridization of mouse apoE mRNA and by anti-apoE immunostaining. Smooth muscle cells of large blood vessels and cells surrounding small vessels in the CNS also strongly expressed EGFP, as did cells in the choroid plexus. EGFPapoE reporter mice will be useful for studying the regulation of apoE expression in the CNS and might provide insights into the diverse mechanisms of apoE4-related neurodegeneration.
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