Spinal motor neurons (MNs) extend their axons to communicate with their innervating targets, thereby controlling movement and complex tasks in vertebrates. Thus, it is critical to uncover the molecular mechanisms of how motor axons navigate to, arborize, and innervate their peripheral muscle targets during development and degeneration. Although transgenic Hb9::GFP mouse lines have long served to visualize motor axon trajectories during embryonic development, detailed descriptions of the full spectrum of axon terminal arborization remain incomplete due to the pattern complexity and limitations of current optical microscopy. Here, we describe an improved protocol that combines light sheet fluorescence microscopy (LSFM) and robust image analysis to qualitatively and quantitatively visualize developing motor axons. This system can be easily adopted to cross genetic mutants or MN disease models with Hb9::GFP lines, revealing novel molecular mechanisms that lead to defects in motor axon navigation and arborization.
Movie: Visualization of E12.5 forelimb nerves under 488 nm excitation with dual-side illumination at a magnification of 0.6X.[click here]