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Understanding brain function requires understanding neural circuits at the level of specificity at which they operate. While recent years have seen the development of a variety of remarkable molecular tools for the study of neural circuits, their utility is currently limited by the inability to deploy them in specific elements of native neural circuits, i.e. particular neuronal subtypes. One can obtain a degree of specificity with neuron-specific promoters, but native promoters are almost never sufficiently specific restricting this approach to transgenic animals. We recently showed that one can obtain transgenic mice with augmented anatomical specificity in targeted brain regions by identifying cis-regulatory elements (i.e. enhancers) uniquely active in those brain regions and combining them with a heterologous promoter, an approach we call EDGE (Enhancer-Driven Gene Expression). Here we extend this strategy to the generation of viral (rAAV) vectors, showing that when combined with the right minimal promoter they largely recapitulate the specificity seen in the corresponding transgenic lines in wildtype animals, even of another species. Because active enhancers can be identified in any tissue sample, this approach promises to enable the kind of circuit-specific manipulations in any species. This should not only greatly enhance our understanding of brain function, but may one day even provide novel therapeutic avenues to correct the imbalances in neural circuits underlying many disorders of the brain.
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