Disruption of Smad4 in neural crest cells leads to mid-gestation death with pharyngeal arch, craniofacial and cardiac defects

Xuguang Nie, Chu-xia Deng, Qin Wang, Kai Jiao
Developmental Biology 2008 April 15, 316 (2): 417-30
TGFbeta/BMP signaling pathways are essential for normal development of neural crest cells (NCCs). Smad4 encodes the only common Smad protein in mammals, which is a critical nuclear mediator of TGFbeta/BMP signaling. In this work, we sought to investigate the roles of Smad4 for development of NCCs. To overcome the early embryonic lethality of Smad4 null mice, we specifically disrupted Smad4 in NCCs using a Cre/loxP system. The mutant mice died at mid-gestation with defects in facial primordia, pharyngeal arches, outflow tract and cardiac ventricles. Further examination revealed that mutant embryos displayed severe molecular defects starting from E9.5. Expression of multiple genes, including Msx1, 2, Ap-2 alpha, Pax3, and Sox9, which play critical roles for NCC development, was downregulated by NCC disruption of Smad4. Moreover, increased cell death was observed in pharyngeal arches from E10.5. However, the cell proliferation rate in these areas was not substantially altered. Taken together, these findings provide compelling genetic evidence that Smad4-mediated activities of TGFbeta/BMP signals are essential for appropriate NCC development.

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