Neural crest survival and differentiation in zebrafish depends on mont blanc/tfap2a gene function

Alejandro Barrallo-Gimeno, Jochen Holzschuh, Wolfgang Driever, Ela W Knapik
Development 2004, 131 (7): 1463-77
Neural crest progenitor cells are the main contributors to craniofacial cartilage and connective tissue of the vertebrate head. These progenitor cells also give rise to the pigment, neuronal and glial cell lineages. To study the molecular basis of neural crest differentiation, we have cloned the gene disrupted in the mont blanc (mob(m610)) mutation, which affects all neural crest derivatives. Using a positional candidate cloning approach we identified an A to G transition within the 3' splice site of the sixth intron of the tfap2a gene that abolishes the last exon encoding the crucial protein dimerization and DNA-binding domains. Neural crest induction and specification are not hindered in mob(m610) mutant embryos, as revealed by normal expression of early neural crest specific genes such as snail2, foxd3 and sox10. In addition, the initial stages of cranial neural crest migration appear undisturbed, while at a later phase the craniofacial primordia in pharyngeal arches two to seven fail to express their typical set of genes (sox9a, wnt5a, dlx2, hoxa2/b2). In mob(m610) mutant embryos, the cell number of neuronal and glial derivatives of neural crest is greatly reduced, suggesting that tfap2a is required for their normal development. By tracing the fate of neural crest progenitors in live mont blanc (mob(m610)) embryos, we found that at 24 hpf neural crest cells migrate normally in the first pharyngeal arch while the preotic and postotic neural crest cells begin migration but fail to descend to the pharyngeal region of the head. TUNEL assay and Acridine Orange staining revealed that in the absence of tfap2a a subset of neural crest cells are unable to undergo terminal differentiation and die by apoptosis. Furthermore, surviving neural crest cells in tfap2a/mob(m610) mutant embryos proliferate normally and later differentiate to individual derivatives. Our results indicate that tfap2a is essential to turn on the normal developmental program in arches 2-7 and in trunk neural crest. Thus, tfap2a does not appear to be involved in early specification and cell proliferation of neural crest, but it is a key regulator of an early differentiation phase and is required for cell survival in neural crest derived cell lineages.

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