The pituitary is a critical neuroendocrine gland that is comprised of five hormone-secreting cell types, which develops in tandem during the embryonic stage. Some essential genes have been identified in the early stage of adenohypophysial development, such as PITX1, FGF8, BMP4 and SF-1. However, it is likely that a large number of signaling molecules and transcription factors essential for determination and terminal differentiation of specific cell types remain unidentified. High-throughput methods such as microarray analysis may facilitate the measurement of gene transcriptional levels, while Expressed sequence tag (EST) sequencing, an efficient method for gene discovery and expression level analysis, may no-redundantly help to understand gene expression patterns during development.
A total of 9,271 ESTs were generated from both fetal and adult pituitaries, and assigned into 961 gene/EST clusters in fetal and 2,747 in adult pituitary by homology analysis. The transcription maps derived from these data indicated that developmentally relevant genes, such as Sox4, ST13 and ZNF185, were dominant in the cDNA library of fetal pituitary, while hormones and hormone-associated genes, such as GH1, GH2, POMC, LHβ, CHGA and CHGB, were dominant in adult pituitary. Furthermore, by using RT-PCR and in situ hybridization, Sox4 was found to be one of the main transcription factors expressed in fetal pituitary for the first time. It was expressed at least at E12.5, but decreased after E17.5. In addition, 40 novel ESTs were identified specifically in this tissue.
The significant changes in gene expression in both tissues suggest a distinct and dynamic switch between embryonic and adult pituitaries. All these data along with Sox4 should be confirmed to further understand the community of multiple signaling pathways that act as a cooperative network that regulates maturation of the pituitary. It was also suggested that EST sequencing is an efficient means of gene discovery.