Efficacy of doublecortin as a marker to analyse the absolute number and dendritic growth of newly generated neurons in the adult dentate gyrus.
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Doublecortin (DCX), a microtubule-associated phosphoprotein, has been recently utilized as a marker of newly born neurons in the adult dentate gyrus (DG). Nonetheless, it is unknown whether DCX exclusively labels newly formed neurons, as certain granule cells with the phenotype of differentiated neurons express DCX. We addressed the authenticity of DCX as a marker of new neurons in the adult DG by quantifying cells that are positive for 5'-bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU), DCX and both BrdU and DCX in hippocampal tissues of adult rats treated with daily injections of BrdU for 12 consecutive days. We provide new evidence that neurons visualized with DCX immunostaining in the adult rat DG are new neurons that are predominantly born during the 12 days before euthanasia. This is confirmed by the robust expression of BrdU in 90% of DCX-positive neurons in the DG of animals injected with BrdU for 12 days. Furthermore, DCX expression is specific to newly generated healthy neurons, as virtually all DCX-positive cells express early neuronal antigens but lack antigens specific to glia, undifferentiated cells or apoptotic cells. As DCX expression is also robust in the dendrites, DCX immunocytochemistry of thicker sections facilitates quantification of the dendritic growth in newly born neurons. Thus, both absolute number and dendritic growth of new neurons that are generated in the adult DG over a 12-day period can be quantified reliably with DCX immunostaining. This could be particularly useful for analysing changes in dentate neurogenesis in human hippocampal tissues as a function of ageing or neurodegenerative diseases.