Understanding the mechanisms of floor plate specification in the vertebrate midbrain and its functions during development
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We have previously shown that the arcuate organization of cell fates within the ventral midbrain critically depends upon the morphogen, Sonic Hedgehog (SHH), which is secreted from a signaling center located along the ventral midline, called the floor plate (FP). Thus, it is ultimately the specification of the FP that is responsible for the patterning and specification of ventral midbrain cell fates. Interestingly, we have found that the chick midbrain FP can be divided into medial (MFP) and lateral (LFP) regions on the basis of gene expression, mode of induction and function. Overexpression of SHH alone is sufficient to recapitulate the entire pattern of ventral cell fates, although remarkably it cannot induce MFP, consistent with the observation that the MFP is refractory to any perturbations of HH signaling. In contrast, overexpression of the winged-helix transcription factor FOXA2/HNF3[beta]robustly induced the MFP fate throughout ventral midbrain while blocking its activity resulted in the absence of the MFP. Thus, by analyzing the differences between SHH and FOXA2 blockade and overexpression, we were able to attribute functions to each the LFP and the MFP. Notably, we observed that FOXA2 overexpression caused a bending of the midbrain neurepithelium that resembled the endogenous median hinge-point observed during neurulation. Additionally, FOXA2 misexpression led to a robust induction of DA progenitors and neurons that was never observed after SHH expression alone. In contrast, we found that all other ventral cell types required HH signaling directly, at a distance and early on in the development of the midbrain when its tissue size is relatively small. Additionally, HH blockade resulted in increased cell-scatter of the arcuate territories and in the disruption of the regional boundaries between the ventral midbrain and adjacent tissue. Thus, we bring new insight into the mechanism by which midbrain FP is specified and ascribe functional roles to its subregions. We propose that while the MFP regulates the production of dopaminergic progenitors and the changes in cellshape required for bending and shaping the neural tube, the LFP appears to be largely responsible for cell survival and the formation of a spatially coherent pattern of midbrain cell fates.