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Development December 1, 2003; 130 (26): 6441-52.

Regulation of Msx genes by a Bmp gradient is essential for neural crest specification.

Tribulo C , Aybar MJ , Nguyen VH , Mullins MC , Mayor R .

There is evidence in Xenopus and zebrafish embryos that the neural crest/neural folds are specified at the border of the neural plate by a precise threshold concentration of a Bmp gradient. In order to understand the molecular mechanism by which a gradient of Bmp is able to specify the neural crest, we analyzed how the expression of Bmp targets, the Msx genes, is regulated and the role that Msx genes has in neural crest specification. As Msx genes are directly downstream of Bmp, we analyzed Msx gene expression after experimental modification in the level of Bmp activity by grafting a bead soaked with noggin into Xenopus embryos, by expressing in the ectoderm a dominant-negative Bmp4 or Bmp receptor in Xenopus and zebrafish embryos, and also through Bmp pathway component mutants in the zebrafish. All the results show that a reduction in the level of Bmp activity leads to an increase in the expression of Msx genes in the neural plate border. Interestingly, by reaching different levels of Bmp activity in animal cap ectoderm, we show that a specific concentration of Bmp induces msx1 expression to a level similar to that required to induce neural crest. Our results indicate that an intermediate level of Bmp activity specifies the expression of Msx genes in the neural fold region. In addition, we have analyzed the role that msx1 plays on neural crest specification. As msx1 has a role in dorsoventral pattering, we have carried out conditional gain- and loss-of-function experiments using different msx1 constructs fused to a glucocorticoid receptor element to avoid an early effect of this factor. We show that msx1 expression is able to induce all other early neural crest markers tested (snail, slug, foxd3) at the time of neural crest specification. Furthermore, the expression of a dominant negative of Msx genes leads to the inhibition of all the neural crest markers analyzed. It has been previously shown that snail is one of the earliest genes acting in the neural crest genetic cascade. In order to study the hierarchical relationship between msx1 and snail/slug we performed several rescue experiments using dominant negatives for these genes. The rescuing activity by snail and slug on neural crest development of the msx1 dominant negative, together with the inability of msx1 to rescue the dominant negatives of slug and snail strongly argue that msx1 is upstream of snail and slug in the genetic cascade that specifies the neural crest in the ectoderm. We propose a model where a gradient of Bmp activity specifies the expression of Msx genes in the neural folds, and that this expression is essential for the early specification of the neural crest.

PubMed ID: 14627721
Article link: Development
Grant support: [+]

Species referenced: Xenopus
Genes referenced: bmp4 foxd3 h4c4 krt12.4 msx1 nog nr3c1 snai1 snai2 sox2 wnt5a

Article Images: [+] show captions