Retrograde Neuroanatomical Tracing of Phrenic Motor Neurons in Mice

Jean-Michel Vandeweerd, Fanny Hontoir, Alexis De Knoop, Kathleen De Swert, Charles Nicaise

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Phrenic motor neurons are cervical motor neurons originating from C3 to C6 levels in most mammalian species. Axonal projections converge into phrenic nerves innervating the respiratory diaphragm. In spinal cord slices, phrenic motor neurons cannot be identified from other motor neurons on morphological or biochemical criteria. We provide the description of procedures for visualizing phrenic motor neuron cell bodies in mice, following intrapleural injections of cholera toxin subunit beta (CTB) conjugated to a fluorophore. This fluorescent neuroanatomical tracer has the ability to be caught up at the diaphragm neuromuscular junction, be carried retrogradely along the phrenic axons and reach the phrenic cell bodies. Two methodological approaches of intrapleural CTB delivery are compared: transdiaphragmatic versus transthoracic injections. Both approaches are successful and result in similar number of CTB-labeled phrenic motor neurons. In conclusion, these techniques can be applied to visualize or quantify the phrenic motor neurons in various experimental studies such as those focused on the diaphragm-phrenic circuitry.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere56758
JournalJournal of visualized experiments : JoVE
Issue number132
Publication statusPublished - 22 Feb 2018


  • Issue 132
  • Neuroscience
  • Phrenic motor neurons
  • cholera toxin subunit beta
  • intrapleural
  • mice
  • neuroanatomical tracer
  • retrograde labeling


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