During the embryonic development of the cerebellum, neurons are produced from progenitor cells located along a ventricular zone within dorsal rhombomere 1 that extends caudally to the roof plate of the fourth ventricle. The apposition of the caudal neuroepithelium and roof plate results in a unique inductive region termed the cerebellar rhombic lip, which gives rise to granule cell precursors and other glutamatergic neuronal lineages. Recently, we and others have shown that, at early embryonic stages prior to the emergence of granule cell precursors (E12), waves of neurogenesis in the cerebellar rhombic lip produce specific hindbrain nuclei followed by deep cerebellar neurons. How the induction of rhombic lip-derived neurons from cerebellar progenitors is regulated during this phase of cerebellar development to produce these temporally discrete neuronal populations while maintaining a progenitor pool for subsequent neurogenesis is not known.
Employing both gain- and loss-of-function methods, we find that Notch1 signaling in the cerebellar primordium regulates the responsiveness of progenitor cells to bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs) secreted from the roof plate that stimulate the production of rhombic lip-derived neurons. In the absence of Notch1, cerebellar progenitors are depleted during the early production of hindbrain neurons, resulting in a severe decrease in the deep cerebellar nuclei that are normally born subsequently. Mechanistically, we demonstrate that Notch1 activity prevents the induction of Math1 by antagonizing the BMP receptor-signaling pathway at the level of Msx2 expression.
Our results provide a mechanism by which a balance between neural induction and maintenance of neural progenitors is achieved in the rhombic lip throughout embryonic development.
The granule cell layer of the cerebellum comprises the largest population of neurons in the vertebrate CNS. In amniotes, its precursors undergo a unique phase of transit amplification, regulated by Sonic hedgehog. They do so within a prominent but transient, secondary proliferative epithelium, the external germinal layer, which is formed by tangential migration of precursor cells from the rhombic lip. This behaviour is a hallmark of bird and mammal cerebellum development. Despite its significance for both development and disease, it is unclear whether an external germinal layer is a requirement for granule cell production or an expedient of transit amplification. Evidence for its existence in more basal vertebrates is contradictory. We therefore examined cerebellum development in the zebrafish, specifically in relation to the expression of the bHLH gene Atonal 1, which definitively characterises granule cell precursors. The expression of Atoh1a, b and c, in combination with patterns of proliferation and fate-maps, define precursor pools at the rhombic lip and cerebellar midline, but demonstrate that an external germinal layer is absent. Sonic hedgehog signalling is correspondingly absent in the zebrafish cerebellum. Sustained roofplate derived signals suggest that, in the absence of transit amplification, primary granule cell precursor pools are maintained throughout development. To determine whether this pattern is specific to zebrafish, or reflects a more general anamniote organisation we examined the expression of similar genes in the dogfish, Scylliorhinus canicula. We show that these anamniotes share a common groundplan of granule cell production that does not include an external germinal layer.
granule cell; migration; Math1/Atonal1/Atoh1; Purkinje cell; cell proliferation; fate-map
To study the development of the cerebellum, we generated a transgenicmouse line Tg(mα6-cre)B1LFR that expresses CRE recombinase under the GABAA receptor α6 subunit promoter. In this line, recombination of an R26R reporter allele occurred postnatally in granule cells of the cerebellum and dorsal cochlear nucleus, as well as in a subset of precerebellar nuclei in the brainstem. All neurons in which recombination occurred originated during embryogenesis from the rhombic lip. This might be explained by a very early specification event at the rhombic lip that primes cells derived from this structure to express the transgene during neuronal maturation. As no recombination occurred in the inferior olive, it may be derived from a distinct subset of precursors at the rhombic lip. No recombination occurred in any of the interneurons in the cerebellum (stellate cells, basket cells, and Golgi cells), consistent with the hypothesis that they are not derived from the same embryonic tissue as the granule cells. genesis 33:160–169, 2002.
cre-mediated; lip derivatives; recombination
This review summarizes vertebrate rhombic lip and early cerebellar development covering classic approaches up to modern developmental genetics which identifies the relevant differential gene expression domains and their progeny. Most of this information is derived from amniotes. However, progress in anamniotes, particularly in the zebrafish, has recently been made. The current picture suggests that rhombic lip and cerebellar development in jawed vertebrates (gnathostomes) share many characteristics. Regarding cerebellar development, these include a ptf1a expressing ventral cerebellar proliferation (VCP) giving rise to Purkinje cells and other inhibitory cerebellar cell types, and an atoh1 expressing upper rhombic lip giving rise to an external granular layer (EGL, i.e., excitatory granule cells) and an early ventral migration into the anterior rhombencephalon (cholinergic nuclei). As for the lower rhombic lip (LRL), gnathostome commonalities likely include the formation of precerebellar nuclei (mossy fiber origins) and partially primary auditory nuclei (likely convergently evolved) from the atoh1 expressing dorsal zone. The fate of the ptf1a expressing ventral LRL zone which gives rise to (excitatory cells of) the inferior olive (climbing fiber origin) and (inhibitory cells of ) cochlear nuclei in amniotes, has not been determined in anamniotes. Special for the zebrafish in comparison to amniotes is the predominant origin of anamniote excitatory deep cerebellar nuclei homologs (i.e., eurydendroid cells) from ptf1a expressing VCP cells, the sequential activity of various atoh1 paralogs and the incomplete coverage of the subpial cerebellar plate with proliferative EGL cells. Nevertheless, the conclusion that a rhombic lip and its major derivatives evolved with gnathostome vertebrates only and are thus not an ancestral craniate character complex is supported by the absence of a cerebellum (and likely absence of its afferent and efferent nuclei) in jawless fishes
atoh1; cerebellum; cochlear nuclei; precerebellar systems; ptf1a; wnt1; zebrafish; rhombic lip
The rhombic lip (aka rautenlippe) is a germinative neuroepithelium rimming the opening of the hindbrain fourth ventricle during development. Studies spanning more than a century have shown that the rhombic lip produces numerous brainstem neuronal populations unique in their development and functions. While these studies have largely been anatomical in nature, recent applications of newer techniques such as genetic fate mapping and conditional mutagenesis have resolved the rhombic lip into numerous molecularly distinct progenitor domains along spatial and temporal axes that give rise to specific neuron subtypes and systems. This exciting convergence between anatomical and molecular definitions of the rhombic lip and its constituent progenitor populations provides now an important framework for further studies into the genetic basis of development and function of numerous hindbrain neuron types critical to life.
The rhombic lip (RL) is the neuroepithelium immediately adjacent to the roof plate of the fourth ventricle and it gives rise to various brainstem and cerebellar cell types. Our study shows that the basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH) transcription factor Olig3 is expressed in the progenitors of RL and ablation of Olig3 significantly affects the development of RL. In Olig3−/− caudal RL, the expression level of Math1 in the dI1 domain is reduced and the formation of four mossy-fiber nuclei is compromised; dI2–dI3 neurons are mis-specified to dI4 interneurons and the climbing-fiber neurons (inferior olive nucleus) are completely lost. In addition, the formation of brainstem (nor)adrenergic centers and first-order relay visceral sensory neurons is also dependent on Olig3. Therefore, Olig3 plays an important role in the fate specification and differentiation of caudal RL-derived neurons.
bHLH; cell fate; rhombic lip; mossy-fiber nuclei; climbing-fiber nucleus; cerebellum
Atoh1 (also known as Math1, Hath1, and Cath1 in mouse, human, and chicken, respectively) is a proneural basic helix–loop–helix (bHLH) transcription factor that is required in a variety of developmental contexts. Atoh1 is involved in differentiation of neurons, secretory cells in the gut, and mechanoreceptors including auditory hair cells. Together with the two closely related bHLH genes, Neurog1 and NeuroD1, Atoh1 regulates neurosensory development in the ear as well as neurogenesis in the cerebellum. Atoh1 activity in the cochlea is both necessary and sufficient to drive auditory hair cell differentiation, in keeping with its known role as a regulator of various genes that are markers of terminal differentiation. Atoh1 is known in other fields as an oncogene and a tumor suppressor involved in regulation of cell cycle control and apoptosis. Aberrant Atoh1 activity in adult tissue is implicated in cancer progression, specifically in medullablastoma and adenomatous polyposis carcinoma. We demonstrate through protein sequence comparison that Atoh1 contains conserved phosphorylation sites outside the bHLH domain, which may allow regulation through post-translational modification. With such diverse roles, tight regulation of Atoh1 at both the transcriptional and protein level is essential.
Math1; bHLH; transcription factor; cochlea; organ of Corti; hair cells
It is well established that cerebellar granule cell precursors (GCPs) initially derive from progenitors in the rhombic lip of the embryonic cerebellar primordium. GCPs proliferate and migrate tangentially across the cerebellum to form the external granule cell layer (EGL) in late embryogenesis and early postnatal development. It is unclear whether GCPs are specified exclusively in the embryonic rhombic lip or whether their precursor persists in the neonate. Using transgenic mice expressing DsRed under the human glial fibrillary acidic protein (hGFAP) promoter, we found 2 populations of DsRed+ cells in the EGL in the first postnatal week defined by bright and faint DsRed fluorescent signal. Bright DsRed+ cells have a protein expression profile and electrophysiological characteristics typical of astrocytes, but faint DsRed+ cells in the EGL and internal granule cell layer (IGL) express markers and physiological properties of immature neurons. To determine if these astroglial cells gave rise to GCPs, we genetically tagged them with EGFP or βgal reporter genes at postnatal day (P)3-P5 using a hGFAP promoter driven inducible Cre recombinase. We found that GFAP promoter+ cells in the EGL are proliferative and express glial and neural stem cell markers. In addition, immature granule cells (GCs) en route to the IGL at P12 as well as GCs in the mature cerebellum, 30 days after recombination, express the reporter protein, suggesting that GFAP promoter+ cells in the EGL generate a subset of granule cells. The identification of glial cells which function as neuronal progenitor cells profoundly impacts our understanding of cellular plasticity in the developing cerebellum.
cerebellum; GFAP; astrocytes; neural stem cells; granule cells; external granule cell layer; Bergmann glial cells; Math1; GABA interneurons
Atoh1 is a basic helix-loop-helix transcription factor necessary for the specification of inner ear hair cells and central auditory system neurons derived from the rhombic lip. We used the Cre-loxP system and two Cre-driver lines (Egr2Cre and Hoxb1Cre) to delete Atoh1 from different regions of the cochlear nucleus (CN) and accessory auditory nuclei (AAN). Adult Atoh1-conditional knockout mice (Atoh1CKO) are behaviorally deaf, have diminished auditory brainstem evoked responses and disrupted CN and AAN morphology and connectivity. In addition, Egr2; Atoh1CKO mice lose spiral ganglion neurons in the cochlea and AAN neurons during the first 3 days of life, revealing a novel critical period in the development of these neurons. These new mouse models of predominantly central deafness illuminate the importance of the CN for support of a subset of peripheral and central auditory neurons.
Retinal ganglion cell genesis requires the proneural bHLH transcription factor Math5 (Atoh7), but little is known about the regulatory elements that control its expression. Here, we investigate Math5 gene regulation using transgenic mice. These mice express GFP in the prenatal retina, live-labeling RGC axon migration and innervation of the brain. Unexpectedly, these Math5-GFP transgenes are also found in Math1 expression domains throughout the nervous system, intriguing since Math5 and Math1 normally exhibit nonoverlapping expression. Furthermore, Math5-GFP and Math1 are regulated similarly, by both Pax6 and Math1 itself, in the lower rhombic lip and dorsal spinal cord. We also show that Pax6 binds to particular Math5 and Math1 regulatory sequences in vitro. Together these data suggest that these atonal semi-orthologues may share conserved regulatory elements that are normally silent in the Math5 gene.
Math5; Math1; visual system; optic nerve; cochlear nucleus; Pax6
The morphogen and mitogen Sonic Hedgehog activates a Gli1-dependent transcription program that drives proliferation of granule neuron progenitors (GNPs) within the external germinal layer of the postnatally developing cerebellum. Medulloblastomas with mutations activating the Sonic Hedgehog signaling pathway preferentially arise within the external germinal layer, and the tumor cells closely resemble GNPs. Atoh1/Math1, a basic helix-loop-helix transcription factor essential for GNP histogenesis, does not induce medulloblastomas when expressed in primary mouse GNPs that are explanted from the early postnatal cerebellum and transplanted back into the brains of naïve mice. However, enforced expression of Atoh1 in primary GNPs enhances the oncogenicity of cells overexpressing Gli1 by almost three orders of magnitude. Unlike Gli1, Atoh1 cannot support GNP proliferation in the absence of Sonic Hedgehog signaling and does not govern expression of canonical cell cycle genes. Instead, Atoh1 maintains GNPs in a Sonic Hedgehog-responsive state by regulating genes that trigger neuronal differentiation, including many expressed in response to bone morphogenic protein-4. Therefore, by targeting multiple genes regulating the differentiation state of GNPs, Atoh1 collaborats with the pro-proliferative Gli1-dependent transcriptional program to influence medulloblastoma development.
cerebellar neurogenesis; Sonic Hedgehog (Shh); tumor-initiating cells; Patched1 (Ptch1); bone morphogenic protein (BMP)
The study of the links and interactions between development and motor learning has noticeable implications for the understanding and management of neurodevelopmental disorders. This is particularly relevant for the cerebellum which is critical for sensorimotor learning. The olivocerebellar pathway is a key pathway contributing to learning of motor skills. Its developmental maturation and remodeling are being unraveled. Advances in genetics have led to major improvements in our appraisal of the genes involved in cerebellar development, especially studies in mutant mice. Cerebellar neurogenesis is compartmentalized in relationship with neurotransmitter fate. The Engrailed-2 gene is a major actor of the specification of cerebellar cell types and late embryogenic morphogenesis. Math1, expressed by the rhombic lip, is required for the genesis of glutamatergic neurons. Mutants deficient for the transcription factor Ptf1a display a lack of Purkinje cells and gabaergic interneurons. Rora gene contributes to the developmental signaling between granule cells and Purkinje neurons. The expression profile of sonic hedgehog in postnatal stages determines the final size/shape of the cerebellum. Genes affecting the development impact upon the physiological properties of the cerebellar circuits. For instance, receptors are developmentally regulated and their action interferes directly with developmental processes. Another field of research which is expanding relates to very preterm neonates. They are at risk for cerebellar lesions, which may themselves impair the developmental events. Very preterm neonates often show sensori-motor deficits, highlighting another major link between impaired developments and learning deficiencies. Pathways playing a critical role in cerebellar development are likely to become therapeutical targets for several neurodevelopmental disorders.
cerebellum; learning; developmental; inferior olive; Purkinje neurons; genes; transcription factors
Cerebellum development involves the coordinated production of multiple neuronal cell types. The cerebellar primordium contains two germinative zones, the rhombic lip (RL) and the ventricular zone (VZ), which generate the different types of glutamatergic and GABAergic neurons, respectively. What regulates the specification and production of glutamatergic and GABAergic neurons as well as the subtypes for each of these two broad classes remains largely unknown. Here we demonstrate with conditional genetic approaches in mice that SMAD4, a major mediator of BMP and TGFβ signaling, is required early in cerebellar development for maintaining the RL and generating subsets of RL-derived glutamatergic neurons, namely neurons of the deep cerebellar nuclei, unipolar brush cells, and the late cohort of granule cell precursors (GCPs). The early cohort of GCPs, despite being deficient for SMAD4, are still generated. In addition, the numbers of GABAergic neurons are reduced in the mutant and the distribution of Purkinje cells becomes abnormal. These studies demonstrate a temporally and spatially restricted requirement for SMAD4 in generating subtypes of cerebellar neurons.
SMAD4; rhombic lip; granule cell precursor; deep cerebellar nuclei; unipolar brush cells; mouse
Math6/atoh8, a bHLH transcription factor, is thought to be indispensable for early embryonic development and likely has important roles in vertebrate tissue-specific differentiation. However, the function of Atoh8 during early development is not clear because homozygous knockout causes embryonic lethality in mice. We have examined the effects of the atoh8 gene on the differentiation of retina and skeletal muscle during early development in zebrafish.
We isolated a Math6 homologue in zebrafish, designated as zebrafish atoh8. Whole -mount in situ hybridization analysis showed that zebrafish atoh8 is dynamically expressed mainly in developing retina and skeletal muscle. Atoh8-MO knock-down resulted in reduced eye size with disorganization of retinal lamination. The reduction of atoh8 function also affected the arrangement of paraxial cells and differentiated muscle fibers during somite morphogenesis.
Our results show that Atoh8 is an important regulator for the development of both the retina and skeletal muscles necessary for neural retinal cell and myogenic differentiation during zebrafish embryogenesis.
Atoh1 encodes a basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH) transcription factor required for the development of the inner ear sensory epithelia, the dorsal spinal cord, brainstem, cerebellum, and intestinal secretory cells. In this study to create a genetic tool for the research on gene function in the ear sensory organs, we generated an Atoh1-Cre knock-in mouse line by replacing the entire Atoh1 coding sequences with the Cre coding sequences. Atoh1Cre/+mice were viable, fertile, and displayed no visible defects whereas the Atoh1Cre/Cremice died perinatally. The spatiotemporal activities of Cre recombinase were examined by crossing Atoh1-Cre mice with the R26R-lacZ conditional reporter mice. Atoh1-Cre activities were detected in the developing inner ear, the hindbrain, the spinal cord, and the intestine. In the inner ear, Atoh1-Cre activities were confined to the sensory organs in which lacZ expression is detected in nearly all of the hair cells and in many supporting cells. Thus, Atoh1-Cre mouse line serves as a useful tool for the functional study of genes in the inner ear. In addition, our results demonstrate that Atoh1 is expressed in the common progenitors destined for both hair and supporting cells.
Math1; Atoh1; Cre recombinase; inner ear; hair cells; supporting cells
In the cerebellum of newborn S100B-EGFP mice, we had previously noted the presence of a large population of S100B-expressing cells, which we assumed to be immature Bergmann glial cells. In the present study, we have drawn on this observation to establish the precise spatio-temporal pattern of S100B gene expression in the embryonic cerebellum.
From E12.5 until E17.5, S100B was expressed in the primary radial glial scaffold involved in Purkinje progenitor exit from the ventricular zone and in the Sox9+ glial progenitors derived from it. During the same period coinciding with the primary phase of granule neuron precursor genesis, transient EGFP expression tagged the Pax6+ forerunners of granule precursors born in the cerebellar rhombic lip.
This study provides the first characterization of S100B-expressing cell types of the embryonic mouse cerebellum in a high-resolution map. The transient activation of the S100B gene distinguishes granule neuron precursors from all other types of precursors so far identified in the rhombic lip, whereas its activation in radial glial precursors is a feature of Bergmann cell gliogenesis.
All cerebellar neurons derive from progenitors that proliferate in two germinal neuroepithelia: the ventricular zone (VZ) generates GABAergic neurons, whereas the rhombic lip is the origin of glutamatergic types. Among VZ-derivatives, GABAergic projection neurons, and interneurons are generated according to distinct strategies. Projection neurons (Purkinje cells and nucleo-olivary neurons) are produced at the onset of cerebellar neurogenesis by discrete progenitor pools located in distinct VZ microdomains. These cells are specified within the VZ and acquire mature phenotypes according to cell-autonomous developmental programs. On the other hand, the different categories of inhibitory interneurons derive from a single population of Pax-2-positive precursors that delaminate into the prospective white matter (PWM), where they continue to divide up to postnatal development. Heterotopic/heterochronic transplantation experiments indicate that interneuron progenitors maintain full developmental potentialities up to the end of cerebellar development and acquire mature phenotypes under the influence of environmental cues present in the PWM. Furthermore, the final fate choice occurs in postmitotic cells, rather than dividing progenitors. Extracerebellar cells grafted to the prospective cerebellar white matter are not responsive to local neurogenic cues and fail to adopt clear cerebellar identities. Conversely, cerebellar cells grafted to extracerebellar regions retain typical phenotypes of cerebellar GABAergic interneurons, but acquire type-specific traits under the influence of local cues. These findings indicate that interneuron progenitors are multipotent and sensitive to spatio-temporally patterned environmental signals that regulate the genesis of different categories of interneurons, in precise quantities and at defined times and places.
GABAergic interneuron; Pax-2; fate specification; heterotopic–heterochronic transplantation; Purkinje cell; ventricular zone; prospective white matter; Ascl-1
In the mammalian retina, neuronal differentiation begins in the dorso-central optic cup and sweeps peripherally and ventrally. While certain extrinsic factors have been implicated, little is known about the intrinsic factors that direct this process. In this study, we evaluate the expression and function of proneural bHLH transcription factors during the onset of mouse retinal neurogenesis. Dorso-central retinal progenitor cells that give rise to the first postmitotic neurons express Neurog2/Ngn2 and Atoh7/Math5. In the absence of Neurog2, the spread of neurogenesis stalls, along with Atoh7 expression and RGC differentiation. However, neurogenesis is eventually restored, and at birth Neurog2 mutant retinas are reduced in size, with only a slight increase in the retinal ganglion cell population. We find that the re-establishment of neurogenesis coincides with the onset of Ascl1 expression, and that Ascl1 can rescue the early arrest of neural development in the absence of Neurog2. Together, this study supports the hypothesis that the intrinsic factors Neurog2 and Ascl1 regulate the temporal progression of retinal neurogenesis by directing overlapping waves of neuron formation.
Neurog2; Atoh7; Ascl1; retinal ganglion cell; retina; neurogenesis
Dysregulation of Otx2 is a hallmark of the pediatric brain tumor medulloblastoma, yet its functional significance in the establishment of these tumors is unknown. Here we have sought to determine the functional consequences of Otx2 overexpression in the mouse hindbrain to characterize its potential role in medulloblastoma tumorigenesis and identify the cell types responsive to this lineage-specific oncogene. Expression of Otx2 broadly in the mouse hindbrain resulted in the accumulation of proliferative clusters of cells in the cerebellar white matter and dorsal brainstem of postnatal mice. We found that brainstem ectopia were derived from neuronal progenitors of the rhombic lip and that cerebellar ectopia were derived from granule neuron precursors (GNPs) that had migrated inwards from the external granule layer (EGL). These hyperplasias exhibited various characteristics of medulloblastoma precursor cells identified in animal models of Shh or Wnt group tumors, including aberrant localization and altered spatiotemporal control of proliferation. However, ectopia induced by Otx2 differentiated and dispersed as the animals reached adulthood, indicating that factors restricting proliferative lifespan were a limiting factor to full transformation of these cells. These studies implicate a role for Otx2 in altering the dynamics of neuronal progenitor cell proliferation.
The cerebellum (Cb) controls movement related physiology using a diverse array of morphologically and biochemically distinct neurons. During development, the Cb is derived from rhombomere 1 (r1), an embryonic compartment patterned by a signaling center referred to as the isthmus organizer. The secreted glycoprotein WNT1 is expressed in the midbrain primordia (mesencephalon, mes) and at the posterior limit of the mes, WNT1 plays a pivotal role in maintaining the isthmus organizer. Mutations in Wnt1 produce severe Cb defects that are generally attributed to aberrant organizer activity. Interestingly, Wnt1 is also expressed at the most posterior limit of dorsal r1, in a region known as the upper rhombic lip (URL). However, the distribution and molecular identity of Wnt1 expressing progenitors have not been carefully described in r1. We used Wnt1-Venus transgenic mice to generate a molecular map of Wnt1 expressing progenitors in relation to other well characterized Cb biomarkers such as MATH1 (ATOH1), LMX1a and OTX2. Our analysis validated Wnt1 expression in the URL and revealed molecularly-defined developmental zones in r1. We then used genetic inducible fate mapping (GIFM) to link transient Wnt1 expression in r1 to terminal cell fates in the mature Cb. Wnt1 expressing progenitors primarily contributed to deep cerebellar nuclei, granule cells, and unipolar brush cells in distinct but overlapping temporal windows and sparsely contributed to inhibitory neurons and Bergmann glia. We further demonstrate that the Wnt1 lineage does not follow a competency model of progressive lineage restriction to generate the Cb or the functionally related precerebellar system. Instead, progenitors initiate Wnt1 expression de novo to give rise to each Cb cell type and precerebellar nuclei. We then used GIFM to determine how the temporal control of Wnt1 expression is related to molecular identity and cell migration in Cb development. Our findings provide new insight into how lineage and timing establish cell diversity within the Cb system.
Cerebellum; Wnt1; Genetic Inducible Fate Mapping; Lineage; Cell Fate; Mouse Genetics
The human ATOH7 gene encodes a basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH) transcription factor that is highly similar to Drosophila Atonal within the conserved bHLH domain. The ATOH7 coding region is contained within a single exon. We mapped ATOH7 to Chromosome (Chr) 10q21.3–22.1, a region syntenic to the segment of mouse Chr 10 where Atoh7 (formerly Math5) is located. The evolutionary relationship between ATOH7 and other atonal homologs was investigated using parsimony analysis. A direct comparison of ATH5/7 and ATH1 protein subgroups to Atonal also revealed a nonrandom distribution of amino acid changes across the bHLH domain, which may be related to their separate visual and proprioceptive sensory functions. Among bHLH genes, ATOH7 is most closely related to Atoh7. This sequence conservation extends significantly beyond the coding region. We define blocks of strong homology in flanking human and mouse genomic DNA, which are likely to include cis regulatory elements. Because targeted deletion of Atoh7 causes optic nerve agenesis in mice, we propose ATOH7 as a candidate for human optic nerve aplasia and related clinical syndromes.
The roof plate is a specialized embryonic midline tissue of the central nervous system that functions as a signaling center regulating dorsal neural patterning. In the developing hindbrain, roof plate cells express Gdf7 and previous genetic fate mapping studies showed that these cells contribute mostly to non-neural choroid plexus epithelium. We demonstrate here that constitutive activation of the Sonic hedgehog signaling pathway in the Gdf7 lineage invariably leads to medulloblastoma. Lineage tracing analysis reveals that Gdf7-lineage cells not only are a source of choroid plexus epithelial cells, but are also present in the cerebellar rhombic lip and contribute to a subset of cerebellar granule neuron precursors, the presumed cell-of-origin for Sonic hedgehog-driven medulloblastoma. We further show that Gdf7-lineage cells also contribute to multiple neuronal and glial cell types in the cerebellum, including glutamatergic granule neurons, unipolar brush cells, Purkinje neurons, GABAergic interneurons, Bergmann glial cells, and white matter astrocytes. These findings establish hindbrain roof plate as a novel source of diverse neural cell types in the cerebellum that is also susceptible to oncogenic transformation by deregulated Sonic hedgehog signaling.
The molecular control of cell type specification within the developing cerebellum as well as the genetic causes of the most common human developmental cerebellar disorders have long remained mysterious. Recent genetic lineage and loss-of-function data from mice have revealed unique and non-overlapping anatomical origins for GABAergic neurons from ventricular zone precursors and glutamatergic cell from rhombic lip precursors, mirroring distinct origins for these neurotransmitter-specific cell types in the cerebral cortex. Mouse studies elucidating the role of Ptf1a as a cerebellar ventricular zone GABerigic fate switch were actually preceded by the recognition that PTF1A mutations in humans cause cerebellar agenesis, a birth defect of the human cerebellum. Indeed, several genes for congenital human cerebellar malformations have recently been identified, including genes causing Joubert syndrome, Dandy-Walker malformation and Ponto-cerebellar hypoplasia. These studies have pointed to surprisingly complex roles for transcriptional regulation, mitochondrial function and neuronal cilia in patterning, homeostasis and cell proliferation during cerebellar development. Together mouse and human studies are synergistically advancing our understanding of the developmental mechanisms that generate the uniquely complex mature cerebellum.
Within the developing vertebrate retina, particular subtypes of amacrine cells (ACs) tend to arise from progenitors expressing the bHLH transcription factor, Atoh7, which is necessary for the early generation of retinal ganglion cells (RGCs). All ACs require the post-mitotic expression of the bHLH transcription factor Ptf1a, however Ptf1a alone is not sufficient to give subtype identities. Here we use functional and in vivo time-lapse studies in the zebrafish retina to investigate on the developmental programs leading to ACs specification within the subsequent divisions of Atoh7-positive progenitors. We find evidences that the homeobox transcription factor Barhl2 is an AC subtype identity-biasing factor that turns on within Atoh7-positive descendants. In vivo lineage tracing reveals that particular modes of cell division tend to generate Barhl2-positive precursors from sisters of RGCs. Additionally, Atoh7 indirectly impacts these division modes to regulate the right number of barhl2-expressing cells. We finally find that Atoh7 itself influences the subtypes of Barhl2-dependent ACs. Taken together, our study uncovers lineage-related and molecular logic of subtype specification in the vertebrate retina, by showing that specific AC subtypes arise via a particular mode of cell division and a transcriptional network cascade involving the sequential expression of first atoh7 followed by ptf1a and then barhl2.
fate determination; cell lineage; Barhl2; subtype specification; retina; zebrafish
Neural basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH) transcription factors are crucial in regulating the differentiation and neuronal subtype specification of neurons. Precisely how these transcription factors direct such processes is largely unknown due to the lack of bona fide targets in vivo. Genetic evidence suggests that bHLH factors have shared targets in their common differentiation role, but unique targets with respect to their distinct roles in neuronal subtype specification. However, whether neuronal subtype specific targets exist remains an unsolved question. To address this question, we focused on Atoh1 (Math1), a bHLH transcription factor that specifies distinct neuronal subtypes of the proprioceptive pathway in mammals including the dorsal interneuron 1 (dI1) population of the developing spinal cord. We identified transcripts unique to the Atoh1-derived lineage using microarray analyses of specific bHLH-sorted populations from mouse. Chromatin immunoprecipitation-sequencing (ChIP-seq) experiments followed by enhancer reporter analyses identified five direct neuronal subtype specific targets of Atoh1 in vivo along with their Atoh1-responsive enhancers. These targets, Klf7, Rab15, Rassf4, Selm, and Smad7, have diverse functions that range from transcription factors to regulators of endocytosis and signaling pathways. Only Rab15 and Selm are expressed across several different Atoh1-specified neuronal subtypes including external granule cells (EGL) in the developing cerebellum, hair cells of the inner ear, and Merkel cells. Our work establishes on a molecular level that neuronal differentiation bHLH transcription factors have distinct lineage-specific targets.