Molecular imaging modalities are important tools to evaluate the efficacy of gene delivery systems and cell-based therapies. Development and application of these modalities will advance our understanding of the mechanism of transgene expression and cell fate and functions. Physical gene transfer methods hold many advantages over viral vectors among gene therapeutic strategies. Here, we evaluated the efficacy of biolistic (“gene gun”) gene targeting to tissues with non-invasive bioluminescence imaging (BLI) methods. Plasmids carrying the firefly luciferase reporter gene were transfected into mouse skin and liver using biolistics, and BLI was measured at various time points after transfer. With optimized DNA loading ratio (DLRs), reporter gene expression reached to peak 1day after transfer to mouse skin, and the maximum depth of tissue penetration was between 200-300μm. Similar peak expression of reporter gene was found in mouse liver but the expression was relatively stable 4-8 days postbiolistic gene transfer and remained for up to two weeks afterward. Our results demonstrated BLI was an efficient strategy for evaluation of reporter gene expression in the same animals over a period of up to two weeks in vivo. Different tissues showed different expression kinetics, suggesting that this is an important parameter to consider when developing gene therapy strategies for different target tissues. We also employed BLI to measure differentiation of mouse embryonic stem (ES) cells into beating cardiomyocytes in vitro and in vivo. A subset of these cardiomyocytes appears to be derived from an adrenergic lineage that ultimately contribute to iv substantial numbers of cardiomyocytes primarily on the left side of the heart. At present, it is unclear what the precise role of these cardiac adrenergic cells is with respect to heart development, though it is known that adrenergic hormones (adrenaline and noradrenaline) are essential for embryonic development since mice lacking them die from apparent heart failure during the prenatal period. To identify and characterize cardiac adrenergic cells, we developed a novel mouse genetic model in which the nuclear-localized enhanced green fluorescent protein (nEGFP) reporter gene was targeted to the first exon of the Phenylethanoamine N-transferase (Pnmt) gene, which encodes for the enzyme that converts noradrenaline to adrenaline, and hence serves as a marker for adrenergic cells. Our results demonstrate this knock-in strategy effectively marked adrenergic cells in both fetal and adult mice. Expression of nEGFP was found in Pnmt-positive cells of the adult adrenal medulla, as expected. Pnmt-nEGFP expression also recapitulated endogenous Pnmt expression in the embryonic mouse heart. In addition, nEGFP and Pnmt expression were induced in parallel during differentiation of pluripotent mouse ES cells into beating cardiomyocytes. This new mouse genetic model provides a useful new tool for studying the properties of adrenergic cells in different tissues. We also identified two limitations of the Pnmt-nEGFP model. One is that the amount of nEGFP expressed within individual adrenergic cells was highly variable. Secondly, expression of nEGFP in the embryonic heart was of low abundance and difficult to distinguish from background autofluorescence. To overcome these limitations, we developed two alternative genetic models to investigate adrenergic cells: v (1) Mouse embryonic stem cells, which have been previously targeted with Pnmt-Cre recombinase gene, were additionally targeted with a dual reporter plasmid which covered both a loxP-flanked cDNA of red fluorescence protein (HcRed) and also EGFP. Under the undifferentiated status, cells emit red fluorescence as transcription stops before EGFP coding sequence. After differentiation into beating cardiomyoctyes, some cells switch fluorescence from red to green, indicating that excision of loxP-flanked sequences by Cre since Pnmt had been activated. (2) A surface marker, truncated lowaffinity nerve growth factor receptor (ΔLNGFR) was used as the reporter gene as cells expressing this marker can be enriched by magnetic-activated cell sorting (MACS), a potentially efficient way to yield highly purified positive cells at low input abundance in a population. Through a series of subcloning steps, the targeting construct, Pnmt- ΔLNGFR-Neo-DTA was created and electroporated into 7AC5EYFP embryonic stem cells. Correctly targeted cells were selected by positive and negative screening. These cells provide a new tool with which to identify, isolate, and characterize the function of adrenergic cells in the developing heart, adrenal gland, and other tissues where adrenergic cells make important contributions.


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Graduation Date





Ebert, Steven


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Medicine


Molecular Biology and Microbiology

Degree Program

Biomedical Sciences









Release Date

June 2013

Length of Campus-only Access

1 year

Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)


Dissertations, Academic -- Graduate Studies, Graduate Studies -- Dissertations, Academic