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1.  Genetic control of the segregation of pain-related sensory neurons innervating the cutaneous versus deep tissues 
Cell reports  2013;5(5):1353-1364.
Mammalian pain-related sensory neurons are derived from TrkA lineage neurons located in the dorsal root ganglion. These neurons project to peripheral targets throughout the body, which can be divided into superficial and deep tissues. Here we find that the transcription factor Runx1 is required for the development of many epidermis-projecting TrkA lineage neurons. Accordingly, knockout of Runx1 leads to the selective loss of sensory innervation to the epidermis, whereas deep tissue innervation and two types of deep tissue pain are unaffected. Within these cutaneous neurons, Runx1 concurrently suppresses a large molecular program normally associated with sensory neurons that innervate deep tissues, such as muscle and visceral organs. Ectopic expression of Runx1 in these deep sensory neurons causes a loss of this molecular program and marked deficits in deep tissue pain. Thus this study provides new insight into a genetic program controlling the segregation of cutaneous versus deep tissue pain pathways.
PMCID: PMC3895930  PMID: 24316076
2.  Dynamic Expression of Secreted Frizzled-related Protein 3 (sFRP3) in the developing mouse spinal cord and dorsal root ganglia 
Neuroscience  2013;0:594-601.
Wnt proteins have been implicated in regulating a variety of developmental processes in the central nervous system (CNS). Secreted Frizzled-related protein 3 (sFRP3) is a member of the sFRP family that can inhibit the Wnt signaling by binding directly to Wnts via their regions of homology to the Wnt-binding domain of Frizzleds. Recent studies suggested that sFRP3 plays an important role in cell proliferation and differentiation in various tissues. To understand the role of sFRP3 in neural development, we carried out detailed studies on the expression of sFRP3 in the developing nervous system. Our results revealed that sFRP3 is initially expressed in the ventricular zone of spinal cord and dorsal root ganglia (DRG), and later in the dorsal horn of spinal cord and subpopulation of DRG neurons. The spatiotemporally dynamic expression of sFRP3 strongly suggests that sFRP3 has potential functions in the sensory neuron genesis and sensory circuitry formation.
PMCID: PMC3844105  PMID: 23827310
secreted frizzled-related protein 3; spinal cord; dorsal root ganglia; sensory circuit
3.  Normal and abnormal coding of painful sensations 
Nature neuroscience  2014;17(2):183-191.
Noxious stimuli cause pain and pain arises from noxious stimuli… usually. Exceptions to these apparent truisms are the basis for clinically important problems and provide valuable insight into the neural code for pain. In this Perspective, we will discuss how painful sensations are encoded. We will argue that although primary somatosensory afferents are specialized (i.e. tuned to specific stimulus features), natural stimuli often activate >1 type of afferent. Manipulating co-activation patterns can alter perception, which argues against each type of afferent acting independently (as expected for strictly labeled lines) and suggests instead that signals conveyed by different types of afferents interact. Deciphering the central circuits that mediate those interactions is critical for explaining the generation and modulation of neural signals ultimately perceived as pain. The advent of genetic and optical dissection techniques promise to dramatically accelerate progress towards this goal, which will facilitate the rational design of future pain therapeutics.
PMCID: PMC4079041  PMID: 24473266
4.  Ontogeny of Excitatory Spinal Neurons Processing Distinct Somatic Sensory Modalities 
The Journal of Neuroscience  2013;33(37):14738-14748.
Spatial and temporal cues govern the genesis of a diverse array of neurons located in the dorsal spinal cord, including dI1-dI6, dILA, and dILB subtypes, but their physiological functions are poorly understood. Here we generated a new line of conditional knock-out (CKO) mice, in which the homeobox gene Tlx3 was removed in dI5 and dILB cells. In these CKO mice, development of a subset of excitatory neurons located in laminae I and II was impaired, including itch-related GRPR-expressing neurons, PKCγ-expressing neurons, and neurons expressing three neuropeptide genes: somatostatin, preprotachykinin 1, and the gastrin-releasing peptide. These CKO mice displayed marked deficits in generating nocifensive motor behaviors evoked by a range of pain-related or itch-related stimuli. The mutants also failed to exhibit escape response evoked by dynamic mechanical stimuli but retained the ability to sense innocuous cooling and/or warm. Thus, our studies provide new insight into the ontogeny of spinal neurons processing distinct sensory modalities.
PMCID: PMC3771039  PMID: 24027274
5.  Activity-dependent silencing reveals functionally distinct itch-generating sensory neurons 
Nature neuroscience  2013;16(7):10.1038/nn.3404.
The peripheral terminals of primary sensory neurons detect histamine and non-histamine itch-provoking ligands through molecularly distinct transduction mechanisms. It remains unclear, however, whether these distinct pruritogens activate the same or different afferent fibers. We utilized a strategy of reversibly silencing specific subsets of murine pruritogen-sensitive sensory axons by targeted delivery of a charged sodium-channel blocker and found that functional blockade of histamine itch did not affect the itch evoked by chloroquine or SLIGRL-NH2, and vice versa. Notably, blocking itch-generating fibers did not reduce pain-associated behavior. However, silencing TRPV1+ or TRPA1+ neurons allowed AITC or capsaicin respectively to evoke itch, implying that certain peripheral afferents may normally indirectly inhibit algogens from eliciting itch. These findings support the presence of functionally distinct sets of itch-generating neurons and suggest that targeted silencing of activated sensory fibers may represent a clinically useful anti-pruritic therapeutic approach for histaminergic and non-histaminergic pruritus.
PMCID: PMC3695070  PMID: 23685721
6.  A genome-scale study of transcription factor expression in the branching mouse lung 
Mammalian lung development consists of a series of precisely choreographed events that drive the progression from simple lung buds to the elaborately branched organ that fulfills the vital function of gas exchange. Strict transcriptional control is essential for lung development. Among the large number of transcription factors encoded in the mouse genome, only a small portion of them are known to be expressed and function in the developing lung. Thus a systematic investigation of transcription factors expressed in the lung is warranted.
To enrich for genes that may be responsible for regional growth and patterning, we performed a screen using RNA in situ hybridization to identify genes that show restricted expression patterns in the embryonic lung. We focused on the pseudoglandular stage during which the lung undergoes branching morphogenesis, a cardinal event of lung development. Using a genome-scale probe set that represents over 90% of the transcription factors encoded in the mouse genome, we identified sixty-two transcription factor genes with localized expression in the epithelium, mesenchyme or both. Many of these genes have not been previously implicated in lung development.
Our findings provide new starting points for the elucidation of the transcriptional circuitry that controls lung development.
PMCID: PMC3529173  PMID: 22711520
lung; mouse; transcription factors; expression patterns; branching
7.  Runx1 Controls Terminal Morphology and Mechanosensitivity of VGLUT3-expressing C-Mechanoreceptors 
VGLUT3-expressing unmyelinated low-threshold mechanoreceptors (C-LTMRs) are proposed to mediate pleasant touch and/or pain, but the molecular programs controlling C-LTMR development are unknown. Here we performed genetic fate mapping, showing that VGLUT3 lineage sensory neurons are divided into two groups, based on transient or persistent VGLUT3 expression. VGLUT3-trasient neurons are large- or medium-diameter myelinated mechanoreceptors that form the Merkel cell-neurite complex. VGLUT3-persistent neurons are small-diameter unmyelinated neurons that are further divided into two subtypes: 1) tyrosine hydroxylase (TH)-positive C-LTMRs that form the longitudinal lanceolate endings around hairs, and 2) TH-negative neurons that form epidermal free nerve endings. We then found that VGLUT3-persistent neurons express the runt domain transcription factor Runx1. Analyses of mice with a conditional knockout of Runx1 in VGLUT3 lineage neurons demonstrate that Runx1 is pivotal to the development of VGLUT3-persistent neurons, such as the expression of VGLUT3 and TH and the formation of the longitudinal lanceolate endings. Furthermore, Runx1 is required to establish mechanosensitivity in C-LTMRs, by controlling the expression of the mechanically gated ion channel Piezo2. Surprisingly, both acute and chronic mechanical pain was largely unaffected in these Runx1 mutants. These findings appear to argue against the recently proposed role of VGLUT3 in C-LTMRs in mediating mechanical hypersensitivity induced by nerve injury or inflammation. Thus, our studies provide new insight into the genetic program controlling C-LTMR development and call for a revisit for the physiological functions of C-LTMRs.
PMCID: PMC3652638  PMID: 23325226
8.  Population coding of somatic sensations 
Neuroscience bulletin  2012;28(2):91-99.
The somatic sensory system includes a variety of sensory modalities, such as touch, pain, itch, and temperature sensitivity. The coding of these modalities appears to be best explained by the population-coding theory, which is composed of the following features. First, an individual somatic sensory afferent is connected with a specific neural circuit or network (for simplicity, a sensory-labeled line), whose isolated activation is sufficient to generate one specific sensation under normal conditions. Second, labeled lines are interconnected through local excitatory and inhibitory interneurons. As a result, activation of one labeled line could modulate, or provide gate control of, another labeled line. Third, most sensory fibers are polymodal, such that a given stimulus placed onto the skin often activates two or multiple sensory-labeled lines; crosstalk among them is needed to generate one dominant sensation. Fourth and under pathological conditions, a disruption of the antagonistic interaction among labeled lines could open normally masked neuronal pathways, and allow a given sensory stimulus to evoke a new sensation, such as pain evoked by innocuous mechanical or thermal stimuli and itch evoked by painful stimuli. As a result of this, some sensory fibers operate along distinct labeled lines under normal versus pathological conditions. Thus, a better understanding of the neural network underlying labeled line crosstalk may provide new strategies to treat chronic pain and itch.
PMCID: PMC3590490  PMID: 22466120
developmental neurobiology; dorsal root ganglion; pain pathways; itch; spinal dorsal horn
9.  Tlx3 and Runx1 act in combination to coordinate the development of a cohort of nociceptors, thermoceptors and pruriceptors 
The Journal of Neuroscience  2012;32(28):9706-9715.
Neurons in the mouse dorsal root ganglia (DRG) are composed of a variety of sensory modalities, such as pain-related nociceptors, itch-related pruriceptors, and thermoceptors. All these neurons are derived from late-born neurons that are initially marked by the expression of the nerve growth factor receptor TrkA. During perinatal and postnatal development, these TrkA lineage neurons are globally segregated into Ret-expressing and TrkA-expressing subtypes, and start to express a variety of sensory receptors and ion channels. The runt domain transcription factor Runx1 plays a pivotal role in controlling these developmental processes, but it remains unclear how it works. Here we showed that the homeodomain transcription factor Tlx3, expressed broadly in DRG neurons, is required to establish most Runx1-dependent phenotypes, including the segregation of TrkA-expressing versus Ret-expressing neurons and the expression of a dozen of sensory channels and receptors implicated in sensing pain, itch and temperature. Expression of Runx1 and Tlx3 is independent of each other at prenatal stages when they first establish the expression of these channels and receptors. Moreover, overexpression of Runx1 plus Tlx3 was able to induce ectopic expression of sensory channels and receptors. Collectively, these studies suggest that genetically Tlx3 acts in combination with Runx1 to control the development of a cohort of nocicepotors, thermoceptors and pruriceptors in mice.
PMCID: PMC3405974  PMID: 22787056
10.  TLR3 deficiency impairs spinal cord synaptic transmission, central sensitization, and pruritus in mice 
The Journal of Clinical Investigation  2012;122(6):2195-2207.
Itch, also known as pruritus, is a common, intractable symptom of several skin diseases, such as atopic dermatitis and xerosis. TLRs mediate innate immunity and regulate neuropathic pain, but their roles in pruritus are elusive. Here, we report that scratching behaviors induced by histamine-dependent and -independent pruritogens are markedly reduced in mice lacking the Tlr3 gene. TLR3 is expressed mainly by small-sized primary sensory neurons in dorsal root ganglions (DRGs) that coexpress the itch signaling pathway components transient receptor potential subtype V1 and gastrin-releasing peptide. Notably, we found that treatment with a TLR3 agonist induces inward currents and action potentials in DRG neurons and elicited scratching in WT mice but not Tlr3–/– mice. Furthermore, excitatory synaptic transmission in spinal cord slices and long-term potentiation in the intact spinal cord were impaired in Tlr3–/– mice but not Tlr7–/– mice. Consequently, central sensitization–driven pain hypersensitivity, but not acute pain, was impaired in Tlr3–/– mice. In addition, TLR3 knockdown in DRGs also attenuated pruritus in WT mice. Finally, chronic itch in a dry skin condition was substantially reduced in Tlr3–/– mice. Our findings demonstrate a critical role of TLR3 in regulating sensory neuronal excitability, spinal cord synaptic transmission, and central sensitization. TLR3 may serve as a new target for developing anti-itch treatment.
PMCID: PMC3366391  PMID: 22565312
11.  Generation of somatic sensory neuron diversity and implications on sensory coding 
Neurons in the dorsal root ganglia (DRG) are composed of a variety of sensory modalities, three of which are pain-sensing nociceptors, temperature-sensing thermoceptors, and itch-sensing pruriceptors. All these neurons are emerged from a common pool of embryonic DRG neurons that are marked by the expression of the neurotrophin receptor TrkA. Here we discuss how intrinsic transcription factors interface with target-derived signals to specify these functionally distinct sensory neurons. We will also discuss how this control mechanism provides a developmental perspective for the coding of somatic sensations.
PMCID: PMC3029488  PMID: 20888752
12.  Genetic marking and characterization of Tac2-expressing neurons in the central and peripheral nervous system 
Molecular Brain  2012;5:3.
The neurocircuits that process somatic sensory information in the dorsal horn of the spinal cord are still poorly understood, with one reason being the lack of Cre lines for genetically marking or manipulating selective subpopulations of dorsal horn neurons. Here we describe Tac2-Cre mice that were generated to express the Cre recombinase gene from the Tac2 locus. Tachykinin 2 (Tac2) encodes a neurotransmitter, neurokinin B (NKB).
By crossing Tac2-Cre mice with ROSA26-tdTomato reporter mice, we directly visualized Tac2 lineage neurons in the dorsal root ganglia, the dorsal horn of the spinal cord, and many parts of the brain including the olfactory bulb, cerebral cortex, amygdala, hippocampus, habenula, hypothalamus, and cerebellum. This Tac2-Cre allele itself was a null allele for the Tac2 gene. Behavioral analyses showed that Tac2 homozygous null mice responded normally to a series of algogenic (pain-inducing) and pruritic (itch-inducing) stimuli.
Tac2-Cre mice are a useful tool to mark specific subsets of neurons in the sensory ganglia, the dorsal spinal cord, and the brain. These mice can also be used for future genetic manipulations to study the functions of Tac2-expressing neurons or the functions of genes expressed in these neurons.
PMCID: PMC3281773  PMID: 22272772
13.  Phenotypic Switching of Nonpeptidergic Cutaneous Sensory Neurons following Peripheral Nerve Injury 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(12):e28908.
In adult mammals, the phenotype of half of all pain-sensing (nociceptive) sensory neurons is tonically modulated by growth factors in the glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) family that includes GDNF, artemin (ARTN) and neurturin (NRTN). Each family member binds a distinct GFRα family co-receptor, such that GDNF, NRTN and ARTN bind GFRα1, -α2, and -α3, respectively. Previous studies revealed transcriptional regulation of all three receptors in following axotomy, possibly in response to changes in growth factor availability. Here, we examined changes in the expression of GFRα1-3 in response to injury in vivo and in vitro. We found that after dissociation of adult sensory ganglia, up to 27% of neurons die within 4 days (d) in culture and this can be prevented by nerve growth factor (NGF), GDNF and ARTN, but not NRTN. Moreover, up-regulation of ATF3 (a marker of neuronal injury) in vitro could be prevented by NGF and ARTN, but not by GDNF or NRTN. The lack of NRTN efficacy was correlated with rapid and near-complete loss of GFRα2 immunoreactivity. By retrogradely-labeling cutaneous afferents in vivo prior to nerve cut, we demonstrated that GFRα2-positive neurons switch phenotype following injury and begin to express GFRα3 as well as the capsaicin receptor, transient receptor potential vanilloid 1(TRPV1), an important transducer of noxious stimuli. This switch was correlated with down-regulation of Runt-related transcription factor 1 (Runx1), a transcription factor that controls expression of GFRα2 and TRPV1 during development. These studies show that NRTN-responsive neurons are unique with respect to their plasticity and response to injury, and suggest that Runx1 plays an ongoing modulatory role in the adult.
PMCID: PMC3244441  PMID: 22216140
14.  VGLUT2-dependent Glutamate Release from Nociceptors Is Required to Sense Pain and Suppress Itch 
Neuron  2010;68(3):543-556.
Itch can be suppressed by painful stimuli, but the underlying neural basis is unknown. We generated conditional null mice in which VGLUT2-dependent synaptic glutamate release from mainly Nav1.8-expressing nociceptors was abolished. These mice showed deficits in pain behaviors including mechanical pain, heat pain, capsaicin-evoked pain, inflammatory pain and neuropathic pain. The pain deficits were accompanied by greatly enhanced itching, as suggested by i) sensitization of both histamine-dependent and histamine-independent itch pathways, and ii) development of spontaneous scratching and skin lesions. Strikingly, intradermal capsaicin injection promotes itch responses in these mutant mice, as opposed to pain responses in control littermates. Consequently, co-injection of capsaicin was no longer able to mask itch evoked by pruritogenic compounds. Our studies suggest that synaptic glutamate release from a group of peripheral nociceptors is required to sense pain and suppress itch. Elimination of VGLUT2 in these nociceptors creates a mouse model of chronic neurogenic itch.
PMCID: PMC2991105  PMID: 21040853
15.  Loss of inhibitory interneurons in the dorsal spinal cord and elevated itch in Bhlhb5 mutant mice 
Neuron  2010;65(6):886-898.
Itch is the least well understood of all the somatic senses, and the neural circuits that underlie this sensation are poorly defined. Here we show that the atonal-related transcription factor Bhlhb5 is transiently expressed in the dorsal horn of the developing spinal cord and appears to play a role in the formation and regulation of pruritic (itch) circuits. Mice lacking Bhlhb5 develop self-inflicted skin lesions and show significantly enhanced scratching responses to pruritic agents. Through genetic fate-mapping and conditional ablation we provide evidence that the pruritic phenotype in Bhlhb5 mutants may be due to selective loss of a subset of inhibitory interneurons in the dorsal horn. Our findings suggest that Bhlhb5 is required for the survival of a specific population of inhibitory interneurons that regulate pruritis and provide evidence that the loss of inhibitory synaptic input results in abnormal itch.
PMCID: PMC2856621  PMID: 20346763
16.  Labeled lines meet and talk: population coding of somatic sensations 
The Journal of Clinical Investigation  2010;120(11):3773-3778.
The somatic sensory system responds to stimuli of distinct modalities, including touch, pain, itch, and temperature sensitivity. In the past century, great progress has been made in understanding the coding of these sensory modalities. From this work, two major features have emerged. First, there are specific neuronal circuits or labeled lines transmitting specific sensory information from the skin to the brain. Second, the generation of specific sensations often involves crosstalk among distinct labeled lines. These features suggest that population coding is the mechanism underlying somatic sensation.
PMCID: PMC2964985  PMID: 21041959
17.  RETouching upon Mechanoreceptors 
Neuron  2009;64(6):773-776.
The rapidly adapting (RA) low threshold mechanoreceptors respond to movement of the skin and vibration, and are critical for the perception of texture and shape. In this issue of Neuron, two papers demonstrate that early-born Ret+ sensory neurons are RA mechanoreceptors, whose peripheral nerve terminals are associated with Meissner corpuscles, the longitudinal lanceolate endings, and the Pacinian corpuscles. The studies further show that Ret signaling is essential for the development of these mechanoreceptors.
PMCID: PMC2838379  PMID: 20064382
18.  Characterization of two Runx1-dependent nociceptor differentiation programs necessary for inflammatory versus neuropathic pain 
Molecular Pain  2010;6:45.
The cellular and molecular programs that control specific types of pain are poorly understood. We reported previously that the runt domain transcription factor Runx1 is initially expressed in most nociceptors and controls sensory neuron phenotypes necessary for inflammatory and neuropathic pain.
Here we show that expression of Runx1-dependent ion channels and receptors is distributed into two nociceptor populations that are distinguished by persistent or transient Runx1 expression. Conditional mutation of Runx1 at perinatal stages leads to preferential impairment of Runx1-persistent nociceptors and a selective defect in inflammatory pain. Conversely, constitutive Runx1 expression in Runx1-transient nociceptors leads to an impairment of Runx1-transient nociceptors and a selective deficit in neuropathic pain. Notably, the subdivision of Runx1-persistent and Runx1-transient nociceptors does not follow the classical nociceptor subdivision into IB4+ nonpeptidergic and IB4- peptidergic populations.
Altogether, we have uncovered two distinct Runx1-dependent nociceptor differentiation programs that are permissive for inflammatory versus neuropathic pain. These studies lend support to a transcription factor-based distinction of neuronal classes necessary for inflammatory versus neuropathic pain.
PMCID: PMC2919460  PMID: 20673362
19.  ‘Runxs and regulations’ of sensory and motor neuron subtype differentiation: Implications for hematopoietic development 
Runt-related (RUNX) transcription factors are evolutionarily conserved regulators of a number of developmental mechanisms. RUNX proteins often control the balance between proliferation and differentiation and alterations of their functions are associated with different types of cancer and other human pathologies. Moreover, RUNX factors control important steps during the developmental acquisition of mature phenotypes. A number of investigations are beginning to shed light on the involvement of RUNX family members in the development of the nervous system. This review summarizes recent progress in the study of the roles of mammalian RUNX proteins during the differentiation of sensory and motor neurons in the peripheral and central nervous system, respectively. The implications of those findings for RUNX-mediated regulation of hematopoietic development will also be discussed.
PMCID: PMC2700053  PMID: 19349198
Acute myeloid leukemia; Differentiation; Dorsal root ganglion; Motor neurons; Nervous system; Proliferation; Runx; Sensory neurons; Spinal cord
20.  A genome-wide screen for spatially restricted expression patterns identifies transcription factors that regulate glial development 
Forward genetic screens in genetically accessible invertebrate organisms such as Drosophila melanogaster have shed light on transcription factors that specify formation of neurons in the vertebrate central nervous system. However, invertebrate models have, to date, been uninformative with respect to genes that specify formation of the vertebrate glial lineages. All recent insights into specification of vertebrate glia have come via monitoring the spatial and temporal expression patterns of individual transcription factors during development. In studies described here, we have taken this approach to the genome scale with an in silico screen of the Mahoney pictorial atlas of transcription factor expression in the developing CNS. From the population of 1445 known or probable transcription factors encoded in the mouse genome we identify 12 novel transcription factors that are expressed in glial lineage progenitor cells. Entry-level screens for biological function establish one of these transcription factors, Klf15, as sufficient for genesis of precocious GFAP positive astrocytes in spinal cord explants. Another transcription factor, Tcf4, plays an important role in maturation of oligodendrocyte progenitors.
PMCID: PMC2775518  PMID: 19741146
Transcription factor; Glia; Development; Oligodendrocyte; Astrocyte; Spinal Cord
21.  JNK-induced MCP-1 production in spinal cord astrocytes contributes to central sensitization and neuropathic pain 
Our previous study showed that activation of c-jun-N-terminal kinase (JNK) in spinal astrocytes plays an important role in neuropathic pain sensitization. We further investigated how JNK regulates neuropathic pain. In cultured astrocytes, TNF-α transiently activated JNK via TNF receptor-1. Cytokine array indicated that the chemokine CCL2/MCP-1 (monocyte chemoattractant protein-1) was strongly induced by the TNF-α/JNK pathway. MCP-1 upregulation by TNF-α was dose-dependently inhibited by the JNK inhibitors SP600125 and D-JNKI-1. Spinal injection of TNF-α produced JNK-dependent pain hypersensitivity and MCP-1 upregulation in the spinal cord. Further, spinal nerve ligation (SNL) induced persistent neuropathic pain and MCP-1 upregulation in the spinal cord, and both were suppressed by D-JNKI-1. Remarkably, MCP-1 was primarily induced in spinal cord astrocytes after SNL. Spinal administration of MCP-1 neutralizing antibody attenuated neuropathic pain. Conversely, spinal application of MCP-1 induced heat hyperalgesia and phosphorylation of extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) in superficial spinal cord dorsal horn neurons, indicative of central sensitization (hyperactivity of dorsal horn neurons). Patch clamp recordings in lamina II neurons of isolated spinal cord slices showed that MCP-1 not only enhanced spontaneous excitatory synaptic currents (sEPSCs) but also potentiated NMDA- and AMPA-induced currents. Finally, the MCP-1 receptor CCR2 was expressed in neurons and some non-neuronal cells in the spinal cord. Taken together, we have revealed a previously unknown mechanism of MCP-1 induction and action. MCP-1 induction in astrocytes following JNK activation contributes to central sensitization and neuropathic pain facilitation by enhancing excitatory synaptic transmission. Inhibition of the JNK/MCP-1 pathway may provide a new therapy for neuropathic pain management.
PMCID: PMC2682921  PMID: 19339605
MAP kinase; chemokine; CCL2; CCR2; TNF-α; nerve injury; glia; neural-glial interaction
22.  Tlx1 and Tlx3 coordinate specification of dorsal horn pain-modulatory peptidergic neurons 
The dorsal spinal cord synthesizes a variety of neuropeptides that modulate the transmission of nociceptive sensory information. Here we use genetic fate mapping to show that Tlx3+ spinal cord neurons and their derivatives represent a heterogeneous population of neurons, marked by partially overlapping expression of a set of neuropeptide genes, including those encoding the anti-opioid peptide CCK, pronociceptive Substance P (SP) and Neurokinin B, and a late wave of somatostatin (SOM). Mutations of Tlx3 and Tlx1 result in a loss of expression of these peptide genes. Brn3a, a homeobox transcription factor whose expression is partly dependent on Tlx3, is required specifically for the early wave of SP expression. These studies suggest that Tlx1 and Tlx3 operate high in the regulatory hierarchy that coordinates specification of dorsal horn pain-modulatory peptidergic neurons.
PMCID: PMC2681187  PMID: 18400903
dorsal spinal cord; peptidergic neurons; Tlx3; Cell fate specification; transcriptional regulation; Pain
23.  Regulation of Motor Neuron Specification by GSK3-Mediated Phosphorylation of Neurogenin 2 
Neuron  2008;58(1):65-77.
The mechanisms by which proneural basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH) factors control neurogenesis have been characterized, but it is not known how they specify neuronal cell-type identity. Here we provide evidence that two conserved serine residues on the bHLH factor neurogenin 2 (Ngn2), S231 and S234, are phosphorylated during motor neuron differentiation. In knock-in mice in which S231 and S234 of Ngn2 were mutated to alanines, neurogenesis occurs normally but motor neuron specification is impaired. The phosphorylation of Ngn2 at S231 and S234 facilitates the interaction of Ngn2 with LIM homeodomain transcription factors to specify motor neuron identity. The phosphorylation-dependent cooperativity between Ngn2 and homeodomain transcription factors represents a novel mode of transcriptional regulation, and may be a general mechanism by which the activities of bHLH and homeodomain proteins are temporally and spatially integrated to generate the wide diversity of cell types that are a hallmark of the nervous system.
PMCID: PMC2587148  PMID: 18400164
24.  Acquisition of granule neuron precursor identity is a critical determinant of progenitor cell competence to form Hedgehog-induced medulloblastoma 
Cancer cell  2008;14(2):123-134.
Origins of the brain tumor, medulloblastoma, from stem cells or restricted progenitor cells are unclear. To investigate this, we activated oncogenic Hedgehog (Hh) signaling in multipotent and lineage-restricted CNS progenitors. We observed that normal unipotent cerebellar granule neuron precursors (CGNP) derive from hGFAP+ and Olig2+ RL progenitors. Hh activation in a spectrum of early and late stage CNS progenitors generated similar medulloblastomas, but not other brain cancers, indicating that acquisition of CGNP identity is essential for tumorigenesis. We show in human and mouse medulloblastoma that cells expressing the glia-associated markers Gfap and Olig2 are neoplastic and that they retain features of embryonic-type granule lineage progenitors. Thus, oncogenic Hh signaling promotes medulloblastoma from lineage-restricted granule cell progenitors.
PMCID: PMC2597270  PMID: 18691547
25.  Neurogenin 1 Null Mutant Ears Develop Fewer, Morphologically Normal Hair Cells in Smaller Sensory Epithelia Devoid of Innervation 
The proneuronal gene neurogenin 1 (ngn1) is essential for development of the inner-ear sensory neurons that are completely absent in ngn1 null mutants. Neither afferent, efferent, nor autonomic nerve fibers were detected in the ears of ngn1 null mutants. We suggest that efferent and autonomic fibers are lost secondarily to the absence of afferents. In this article we show that ngn1 null mutants develop smaller sensory epithelia with morphologically normal hair cells. In particular, the saccule is reduced dramatically and forms only a small recess with few hair cells along a duct connecting the utricle with the cochlea. Hair cells of newborn ngn1 null mutants show no structural abnormalities, suggesting that embryonic development of hair cells is independent of innervation. However, the less regular pattern of dispersal within sensory epithelia may be caused by some effects of afferents or to the stunted growth of the sensory epithelia. Tracing of facial and stato-acoustic nerves in control and ngn1 null mutants showed that only the distal, epibranchial, placode-derived sensory neurons of the geniculate ganglion exist in mutants. Tracing further showed that these geniculate ganglion neurons project exclusively to the solitary tract. In addition to the normal complement of facial branchial and visceral motoneurons, ngn1 null mutants have some trigeminal motoneurons and contralateral inner-ear efferents projecting, at least temporarily, through the facial nerve. These data suggest that some neurons in the brainstem (e.g., inner-ear efferents, trigeminal motoneurons) require afferents to grow along and redirect to ectopic cranial nerve roots in the absence of their corresponding sensory roots.
PMCID: PMC2504536  PMID: 11545141
proneuronal genes; ear development; ganglion cell development; inner ear efferents; bHLH genes

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