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1.  Enteric nervous system specific deletion of Foxd3 disrupts glial cell differentiation and activates compensatory enteric progenitors 
Developmental Biology  2012;363(2):373-387.
The enteric nervous system (ENS) arises from the coordinated migration, expansion and differentiation of vagal and sacral neural crest progenitor cells. During development, vagal neural crest cells enter the foregut and migrate in a rostro-to-caudal direction, colonizing the entire gastrointestinal tract and generating the majority of the ENS. Sacral neural crest contributes to a subset of enteric ganglia in the hindgut, colonizing the colon in a caudal-to-rostral wave. During this process, enteric neural crest-derived progenitors (ENPs) self-renew and begin expressing markers of neural and glial lineages as they populate the intestine. Our earlier work demonstrated that the transcription factor Foxd3 is required early in neural crest-derived progenitors for self-renewal, multipotency and establishment of multiple neural crest-derived cells and structures including the ENS. Here, we describe Foxd3 expression within the fetal and postnatal intestine: Foxd3 was strongly expressed in ENPs as they colonize the gastrointestinal tract and was progressively restricted to enteric glial cells. Using a novel Ednrb-iCre transgene to delete Foxd3 after vagal neural crest cells migrate into the midgut, we demonstrated a late temporal requirement for Foxd3 during ENS development. Lineage labeling of Ednrb-iCre expressing cells in Foxd3 mutant embryos revealed a reduction of ENPs throughout the gut and loss of Ednrb-iCre lineage cells in the distal colon. Although mutant mice were viable, defects in patterning and distribution of ENPs were associated with reduced proliferation and severe reduction of glial cells derived from the Ednrb-iCre lineage. Analyses of ENS-lineage and differentiation in mutant embryos suggested activation of a compensatory population of Foxd3-positive ENPs that did not express the Ednrb-iCre transgene. Our findings highlight the crucial roles played by Foxd3 during ENS development including progenitor proliferation, neural patterning, and glial differentiation and may help delineate distinct molecular programs controlling vagal versus sacral neural crest development.
PMCID: PMC3288190  PMID: 22266424
neural crest; Foxd3; enteric nervous system; glial cells; developmental compensation
2.  Functional Interaction Between Foxd3 and Pax3 in Cardiac Neural Crest Development 
The transcription factors Foxd3 and Pax3 are important early regulators of neural crest (NC) progenitor cell properties. Homozygous mutations of Pax3 or a homozygous NC-specific deletion of Foxd3 cause marked defects in most NC derivatives, but neither loss of both Foxd3 alleles nor loss of one Pax3 allele alone greatly affects overall development of cardiac NC derivatives. In contrast, compound mutant embryos homozygous for a NC-specific Foxd3 mutation and heterozygous for Pax3 have fully penetrant persistent truncus arteriosus, severe thymus hypoplasia, and midgestation lethality. Foxd3; Pax3 compound mutant embryos have increased cell death in the neural folds and a drastic early reduction of NC cells, with an almost complete absence of NC caudal to the first pharyngeal arch. The genetic interaction between these genes implicates gene dosage-sensitive roles for Foxd3 and Pax3 in cardiac NC progenitors. Foxd3 and Pax3 act together to affect survival and maintenance of cardiac NC progenitors, and loss of these progenitors catastrophically affects key aspects of later cardiovascular development.
PMCID: PMC3082627  PMID: 21254333
truncus arteriosus; velocardiofacial syndrome; transcription factors; mouse; progenitors
3.  Influence and timing of arrival of murine neural crest on pancreatic beta cell development and maturation 
Developmental biology  2010;349(2):321-330.
Interactions between cells from the ectoderm and mesoderm influence development of the endodermally-derived pancreas. While much is known about how mesoderm regulates pancreatic development, relatively little is understood about how and when the ectodermally-derived neural crest regulates pancreatic development and specifically, beta cell maturation. A previous study demonstrated that signals from the neural crest regulate beta cell proliferation and ultimately, beta cell mass. Here, we expand on that work to describe timing of neural crest arrival at the developing pancreatic bud and extend our knowledge of the non-cell autonomous role for neural crest derivatives in the process of beta cell maturation. We demonstrated that murine neural crest entered the pancreatic mesenchyme between the 26 and 27 somite stages (approximately 10.0 dpc) and became intermingled with pancreatic progenitors as the epithelium branched into the surrounding mesenchyme. Using a neural crest-specific deletion of the Forkhead transcription factor Foxd3, we ablated neural crest cells that migrate to the pancreatic primordium. Consistent with previous data, in the absence of Foxd3, and therefore the absence of neural crest cells, proliferation of Insulin-expressing cells and Insulin-positive area are increased. Analysis of endocrine cell gene expression in the absence of neural crest demonstrated that, although the number of Insulin-expressing cells was increased, beta cell maturation was significantly impaired. Decreased MafA and Pdx1 expression illustrated the defect in beta cell maturation; we discovered that without neural crest, there was a reduction in the percentage of Insulin-positive cells that co-expressed Glut2 and Pdx1 compared to controls. In addition, transmission electron microscopy analyses revealed decreased numbers of characteristic Insulin granules and the presence of abnormal granules in Insulin-expressing cells from mutant embryos. Together, these data demonstrate that the neural crest is a critical regulator of beta cell development on two levels: by negatively regulating beta cell proliferation and by promoting beta cell maturation.
PMCID: PMC3019241  PMID: 21081123
4.  Conditional Gene Targeting in Mouse Pancreatic β-Cells 
Diabetes  2010;59(12):3090-3098.
Conditional gene targeting has been extensively used for in vivo analysis of gene function in β-cell biology. The objective of this study was to examine whether mouse transgenic Cre lines, used to mediate β-cell– or pancreas-specific recombination, also drive Cre expression in the brain.
Transgenic Cre lines driven by Ins1, Ins2, and Pdx1 promoters were bred to R26R reporter strains. Cre activity was assessed by β-galactosidase or yellow fluorescent protein expression in the pancreas and the brain. Endogenous Pdx1 gene expression was monitored using Pdx1tm1Cvw lacZ knock-in mice. Cre expression in β-cells and co-localization of Cre activity with orexin-expressing and leptin-responsive neurons within the brain was assessed by immunohistochemistry.
All transgenic Cre lines examined that used the Ins2 promoter to drive Cre expression showed widespread Cre activity in the brain, whereas Cre lines that used Pdx1 promoter fragments showed more restricted Cre activity primarily within the hypothalamus. Immunohistochemical analysis of the hypothalamus from Tg(Pdx1-cre)89.1Dam mice revealed Cre activity in neurons expressing orexin and in neurons activated by leptin. Tg(Ins1-Cre/ERT)1Lphi mice were the only line that lacked Cre activity in the brain.
Cre-mediated gene manipulation using transgenic lines that express Cre under the control of the Ins2 and Pdx1 promoters are likely to alter gene expression in nutrient-sensing neurons. Therefore, data arising from the use of these transgenic Cre lines must be interpreted carefully to assess whether the resultant phenotype is solely attributable to alterations in the islet β-cells.
PMCID: PMC2992770  PMID: 20802254
5.  A predicted hairpin cluster correlates with barriers to PCR, sequencing and possibly BAC recombineering 
Scientific Reports  2011;1:106.
Formation of higher-order structure of nucleic acids (hairpins or loops, for example) may impact not only gene regulation, but also molecular biology techniques and approaches critical for design and production of vectors needed for genetic engineering approaches. In the course of designing vectors aimed to modify the murine Foxd3 locus through homologous recombination in embryonic stem cells, we discovered a 370 nucleotide segment of DNA resistant to polymerase read-through. In addition to sequencing and PCR disruptions, we were unable to use BAC recombineering strategies to exchange sequences within the Foxd3 locus. This segment corresponds to a putative DNA hairpin region just upstream of the 5' untranslated region of Foxd3. This region is also highly conserved across vertebrate species, suggesting possible functional significance. Our findings provide a cautionary note for researchers experiencing technical challenges with BAC recombineering or other molecular biology methods requiring recombination or polymerase activity.
PMCID: PMC3255507  PMID: 22355623
6.  Targeted loss of Arx results in a developmental epilepsy mouse model and recapitulates the human phenotype in heterozygous females 
Brain  2009;132(6):1563-1576.
Mutations in the X-linked aristaless-related homeobox gene (ARX) have been linked to structural brain anomalies as well as multiple neurocognitive deficits. The generation of Arx-deficient mice revealed several morphological anomalies, resembling those observed in patients and an interneuron migration defect but perinatal lethality precluded analyses of later phenotypes. Interestingly, many of the neurological phenotypes observed in patients with various ARX mutations can be attributed, in part, to interneuron dysfunction. To directly test this possibility, mice carrying a floxed Arx allele were generated and crossed to Dlx5/6CRE-IRES-GFP(Dlx5/6CIG) mice, conditionally deleting Arx from ganglionic eminence derived neurons including cortical interneurons. We now report that Arx−/y;Dlx5/6CIG (male) mice exhibit a variety of seizure types beginning in early-life, including seizures that behaviourally and electroencephalographically resembles infantile spasms, and show evolution through development. Thus, this represents a new genetic model of a malignant form of paediatric epilepsy, with some characteristics resembling infantile spasms, caused by mutations in a known infantile spasms gene. Unexpectedly, approximately half of the female mice carrying a single mutant Arx allele (Arx−/+;Dlx5/6CIG) also developed seizures. We also found that a subset of human female carriers have seizures and neurocognitive deficits. In summary, we have identified a previously unrecognized patient population with neurological deficits attributed to ARX mutations that are recapitulated in our mouse model. Furthermore, we show that perturbation of interneuron subpopulations is an important mechanism underling the pathogenesis of developmental epilepsy in both hemizygous males and carrier females. Given the frequency of ARX mutations in patients with infantile spasms and related disorders, our data unveil a new model for further understanding the pathogenesis of these disorders.
PMCID: PMC2685924  PMID: 19439424
Epilepsy; development; conditional knockout; genetic model; interneurons
7.  Regulation of ES Cell Self Renewal and Pluripotency by Foxd3 
Stem cells (Dayton, Ohio)  2008;26(10):2475-2484.
The Foxd3 forkhead transcription factor is required for maintaining pluripotent cells in the early mouse embryo and for the establishment of murine embryonic stem (ES) cell lines. To begin to understand the role of Foxd3 in ES cell maintenance, we derived ES cell lines from blastocysts that carried two conditional Foxd3 alleles and a tamoxifen-inducible Cre transgene. Tamoxifen treatment produced a rapid and near complete loss of Foxd3 mRNA and protein. Foxd3-deficient ES cells maintained a normal proliferation rate but displayed increased apoptosis, and clonally dispersed ES cells showed a decreased ability to self-renew. Under either self-renewal or differentiation-promoting culture conditions we observed a strong, precocious differentiation of Foxd3 mutant ES cells along multiple lineages including trophectoderm, endoderm and mesendoderm. This profound alteration in biological behavior occurred in the face of continued expression of factors known to induce pluripotency including Oct4, Sox2 and Nanog. We present a model for the role of Foxd3 in repressing differentiation, promoting self-renewal and maintaining survival of mouse ES cells.
PMCID: PMC2658636  PMID: 18653770
Foxd3; ES cell; self-renewal; transcription factor
8.  Requirement for Foxd3 in Maintenance of Neural Crest Progenitors 
Development (Cambridge, England)  2008;135(9):1615-1624.
Understanding the molecular mechanisms of stem cell maintenance is critical for the ultimate goal of manipulating stem cells for treatment of disease. Foxd3 is required early in mouse embryogenesis; Foxd3−/− embryos fail around the time of implantation, cells of the inner cell mass cannot be maintained in vitro, and blastocyst-derived stem cell lines cannot be established. Here, we report that Foxd3 is required for maintenance of the multipotent mammalian neural crest. Using tissue specific deletion of Foxd3 in the neural crest, we show that Foxd3flox/−; Wnt1-Cre mice die perinatally with a catastrophic loss of neural crest-derived structures. Cranial neural crest tissues are either missing or severely reduced in size, the peripheral nervous system consists of reduced dorsal root ganglia and cranial nerves, and the entire gastrointestinal tract is devoid of neural crest derivatives. These results demonstrate a global role for this transcriptional repressor in all aspects of neural crest maintenance along the anterior-posterior axis, and establish an unprecedented molecular link between multiple divergent progenitor lineages of the mammalian embryo.
PMCID: PMC2562748  PMID: 18367558
Neural crest; Foxd3; mouse embryo; stem cell maintenance
9.  Identification of Arx transcriptional targets in the developing basal forebrain 
Human Molecular Genetics  2008;17(23):3740-3760.
Mutations in the aristaless-related homeobox (ARX) gene are associated with multiple neurologic disorders in humans. Studies in mice indicate Arx plays a role in neuronal progenitor proliferation and development of the cerebral cortex, thalamus, hippocampus, striatum, and olfactory bulbs. Specific defects associated with Arx loss of function include abnormal interneuron migration and subtype differentiation. How disruptions in ARX result in human disease and how loss of Arx in mice results in these phenotypes remains poorly understood. To gain insight into the biological functions of Arx, we performed a genome-wide expression screen to identify transcriptional changes within the subpallium in the absence of Arx. We have identified 84 genes whose expression was dysregulated in the absence of Arx. This population was enriched in genes involved in cell migration, axonal guidance, neurogenesis, and regulation of transcription and includes genes implicated in autism, epilepsy, and mental retardation; all features recognized in patients with ARX mutations. Additionally, we found Arx directly repressed three of the identified transcription factors: Lmo1, Ebf3 and Shox2. To further understand how the identified genes are involved in neural development, we used gene set enrichment algorithms to compare the Arx gene regulatory network (GRN) to the Dlx1/2 GRN and interneuron transcriptome. These analyses identified a subset of genes in the Arx GRN that are shared with that of the Dlx1/2 GRN and that are enriched in the interneuron transcriptome. These data indicate Arx plays multiple roles in forebrain development, both dependent and independent of Dlx1/2, and thus provides further insights into the understanding of the mechanisms underlying the pathology of mental retardation and epilepsy phenotypes resulting from ARX mutations.
PMCID: PMC2581427  PMID: 18799476
10.  The zinc-finger transcription factor Klf4 is required for terminal differentiation of goblet cells in the colon 
Development (Cambridge, England)  2002;129(11):2619-2628.
Klf4 (formerly GKLF) is a zinc-finger transcription factor expressed in the epithelia of the skin, lungs, gastrointestinal tract and several other organs. In vitro studies have suggested that Klf4 plays an important role in cell proliferation and/or differentiation. Mice homozygous for a null mutation in Klf4 die within 15 hours of birth and show selective perturbation of late-stage differentiation structures in the epidermis, but the function of Klf4 in the gastrointestinal tract has not been investigated. To address this issue, we have generated Klf4−/− mice by homologous recombination in embryonic stem cells. In this study, we provide the first in vivo evidence that Klf4 is a goblet cell-specific differentiation factor in the colon. Klf4−/− mice exhibit normal cell proliferation and cell death rates in the colon on postnatal day 1. However, Klf4−/− mice demonstrate a 90% decrease in the number of goblet cells in the colon, show abnormal expression of the goblet cell-specific marker Muc2 by in situ hybridization, have abnormal staining of the colonic epithelium with Alcian Blue for acidic mucins, and lack normal goblet cell morphology by ultrastructural analysis. All other epithelial cell types are present in the colon of Klf4−/− mice. In summary, Klf4 plays a crucial role in colonic epithelial cell differentiation in vivo.
PMCID: PMC2225535  PMID: 12015290
Klf4; Goblet cell; Cell differentiation; Colon; Mouse
11.  FoxD3 Regulation of Nodal in the Spemann Organizer is Essential for Xenopus Dorsal Mesoderm Development 
Development (Cambridge, England)  2006;133(24):4827-4838.
Induction and patterning of the mesodermal germ layer is a key early step of vertebrate embryogenesis. We report that FoxD3 function in the Xenopus gastrula is essential for dorsal mesodermal development and for Nodal expression in the Spemann organizer. In embryos and explants, FoxD3 induced mesodermal genes, convergent extension movements, and differentiation of axial tissues. Engrailed-FoxD3, but not VP16-FoxD3, was identical to native FoxD3 in mesoderm-inducing activity, indicating that FoxD3 functions as a transcriptional repressor to induce mesoderm. Antagonism of FoxD3 with VP16-FoxD3 or morpholino-knockdown of FoxD3 protein resulted in a complete block to axis formation, a loss of mesodermal gene expression, and an absence of axial mesoderm, indicating that transcriptional repression by FoxD3 is required for mesodermal development. FoxD3 induced mesoderm in a non-cell-autonomous manner, indicating a role for secreted inducing factors in the response to FoxD3. Consistent with this mechanism, FoxD3 was necessary and sufficient for the expression of multiple Nodal-related genes, and inhibitors of Nodal signaling blocked mesoderm induction by FoxD3. Therefore, FoxD3 is required for Nodal expression in the Spemann organizer and this function is essential for dorsal mesoderm formation.
PMCID: PMC1676154  PMID: 17092955
Xenopus; FoxD3; Forkhead; Nodal; mesoderm; transcription

Results 1-11 (11)