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Publications in 2001

Bauer, H., Lele, Z., Rauch, G.-J., Geisler, R. and Hammerschmidt, M. (2001). The type I serine/threonine kinase receptor Alk8/Lost-a-fin is required for Bmp2b/7 signal transduction during dorsoventral patterning of the zebrafish embryo. Development, 128(6): 849-858.

Ventral specification of mesoderm and ectoderm depends on signaling by members of the bone morphogenetic protein (Bmp) family. Bmp signals are transmitted by a complex of type I and type II serine/threonine kinase transmembrane receptors. Here, we show that Alk8, a novel member of the Alk1 subgroup of type I receptors, is disrupted in zebrafish lost-a-fin (laf) mutants. Two alk8/laf null alleles are described. In laf(tm110), a conserved extracellular cysteine residue is replaced by an arginine, while in laf(m100), Alk8 is prematurely terminated directly after the transmembrane domain. The zygotic effect of both mutations leads to dorsalization of intermediate strength. A much stronger dorsalization, similar to that of bmp2b/swirl and bmp7/snailhouse mutants, however, is obtained by inhibiting both maternally and zygotically supplied alk8 gene products with morpholino antisense oligonucleotides. The phenotype of laf mutants and alk8 morphants can be rescued by injected mRNA encoding Alk8 or the Bmp-regulated transcription factor Smad5, but not by mRNA encoding Bmp2b or Bmp7. Conversely, injected mRNA encoding a constitutively active version of Alk8 can rescue the strong dorsalization of bmp2b/swirl and bmp7/snailhouse mutants, whereas smad5/somitabun mutant embryos do not respond. Altogether, the data suggest that Alk8 acts as a Bmp2b/7 receptor upstream of Smad5.

Begemann, G., Schilling, T.F., Rauch, G.J., Geisler, R. and Ingham, P.W. (2001). The zebrafish neckless mutation reveals a requirement for raldh2 in mesodermal signals that pattern the hindbrain. Development, 128(16):3081-94.

We describe a new zebrafish mutation, neckless, and present evidence that it inactivates retinaldehyde dehydrogenase type 2, an enzyme involved in retinoic acid biosynthesis. neckless embryos are characterised by a truncation of the anteroposterior axis anterior to the somites, defects in midline mesendodermal tissues and absence of pectoral fins. At a similar anteroposterior level within the nervous system, expression of the retinoic acid receptor a and hoxb4 genes is delayed and significantly reduced. Consistent with a primary defect in retinoic acid signalling, some of these defects in neckless mutants can be rescued by application of exogenous retinoic acid. We use mosaic analysis to show that the reduction in hoxb4 expression in the nervous system is a non-cell autonomous effect, reflecting a requirement for retinoic acid signalling from adjacent paraxial mesoderm. Together, our results demonstrate a conserved role for retinaldehyde dehydrogenase type 2 in patterning the posterior cranial mesoderm of the vertebrate embryo and provide definitive evidence for an involvement of endogenous retinoic acid in signalling between the paraxial mesoderm and neural tube.

Beuchle, D., Struhl, G. and Müller, J. (2001). Polycomb Group proteins and heritable silencing of Drosophila Hox genes. Development, 128(6): 993-1004.

Early in Drosophila embryogenesis, transcriptional repressors encoded by Gap genes prevent the expression of particular combinations of Hox genes in each segment, During subsequent development, those Hox genes that were initially repressed in each segment remain off in all the descendent cells, even though the Gap repressors are no longer present. This phenomenon of heritable silencing depends on proteins of the Polycomb Group (PcG) and on cis-acting Polycomb response elements (PREs) in the Hox gene loci, We have removed individual PcG proteins from proliferating cells and then resupplied these proteins after a few or several cell generations, We show that most PcG proteins are required throughout development: when these proteins are removed, Hox genes become derepressed, However, we find that resupply of at least some PcG proteins can cause re-repression of Hox genes, provided that it occurs within a few cell generations of the loss of repression, These results suggest a functional distinction between transcriptional repression and heritable silencing: in at least some contexts, Hox genes can retain the capacity to be heritably silenced, despite being transcribed and replicated, We propose that silenced Hox genes bear a heritable, molecular mark that targets them for transcriptional repression. Some PcG proteins may be required to define and propagate this mark; others may function to repress the transcription of Hox genes that bear the mark.

Birve, A., Sengupta, A. K., Beuchle, D., Larsson, J., Kennison, J.A., Rasmuson-Lestander, A. and Müller, J. (2001). Su(z)12, a novel Drosophila Polycomb group gene that is conserved in vertebrates and plants. Development, 128: 3371-3379.

In both Drosophila and vertebrates, spatially restricted expression of HOX genes is controlled by the Polycomb group (PcG) repressors. Here we characterize a novel Drosophila PcG gene, Suppressor of zeste 12 (Su(z)12). Su(z)12 mutants exhibit very strong homeotic transformations and Su(z)12 function is required throughout development to maintain the repressed state of HOX genes. Unlike most other PcG mutations, Su(z)12 mutations are strong suppressors of position-effect variegation (PEV), suggesting that Su(z)12 also functions in heterochromatin-mediated repression. Furthermore, Su(z)12 function is required for germ cell development. The Su(z)12 protein is highly conserved in vertebrates and is related to the Arabidopsis proteins EMF2, FIS2 and VRN2. Notably, EMF2 is a repressor of floral homeotic genes. These results suggest that at least some of the regulatory machinery that controls homeotic gene expression is conserved between animals and plants.

Dutton, K.A., Pauliny, A., Lopes, S.S., Elworthy, S., Carney, T.J., Rauch, J., Geisler, R., Haffter, P. and Kelsh, R.N. (2001). Zebrafish colourless encodes sox10 and specifies non-ectomesenchymal neural crest fates. Development, 128(21): 4113-4125.

Waardenburg-Shah syndrome combines the reduced enteric nervous system characteristic of Hirschsprung's disease with reduced pigment cell number, although the cell biological basis of the disease is unclear. We have analysed a zebrafish Waardenburg-Shah syndrome model. We show that the colourless gene encodes a sox10 homologue, identify sox10 lesions in mutant alleles and rescue the mutant phenotype by ectopic sox10 expression. Using iontophoretic labelling of neural crest cells, we demonstrate that colourless mutant neural crest cells form ectomesenchymal fates. By contrast, neural crest cells which in wild types form non-ectomesenchymal fates generally fail to migrate and do not overtly differentiate. These cells die by apoptosis between 35 and 45 hours post fertilisation. We provide evidence that melanophore defects in colourless mutants can be largely explained by disruption of nacre/mitf expression. We propose that all defects of affected crest derivatives are consistent with a primary role for colourless/sox10 in specification of non-ectomesenchymal crest derivatives. This suggests a novel mechanism for the aetiology of Waardenburg-Shah syndrome in which affected neural crest derivatives fail to be generated from the neural crest.

Fricke, C., Lee, J.-S., Geiger-Rudolph, S., Bonhoeffer, F. and Chien, C.-B. (2001). astray, a Zebrafish roundabout Homolog Required for Retinal Axon Guidance. Science, 292(5516): 507-510.

As growing retinotectal axons navigate from the eye to the tectum, they sense guidance molecules distributed along the optic pathway. Mutations in the zebrafish astray gene severely disrupt retinal axon guidance, causing anterior-posterior pathfinding defects, excessive midline crossing, and defasciculation of the retinal projection. Eye transplantation experiments show that astray function is required in the eye. We identify astray as zebrafish robo2, a member of the Roundabout family of axon guidance receptors. Retinal ganglion cells express robo2 as they extend axons. Thus, robo2 is required for multiple axon guidance decisions during establishment of the vertebrate visual projection.

Heisenberg, C.-P., Houart, C., Take-uchi, M., Rauch, G.-J., Young, N., Coutinho, P., Masai, I., Caneparo, L., Concha, M.L., Geisler, R., Dale, T.C., Wilson, S.W. and Stemple, D.L. (2001) A mutation in the Gsk3-binding domain of zebrafish Masterblind/Axin1 leads to a fate transformation of telencephalon and eyes to diencephalon. Genes Dev., 15 (11): 1427-1434.

Zebrafish embryos homozygous for the masterblind (mbl) mutation exhibit a striking phenotype in which the eyes and telencephalon are reduced or absent and diencephalic fates expand to the front of the brain. Here we show that mbl/ embryos carry an amino-acid change at a conserved site in the Wnt pathway scaffolding protein, Axin1. The amino-acid substitution present in the mbl allele abolishes the binding of Axin to Gsk3 and affects Tcf-dependent transcription. Therefore, Gsk3 activity may be decreased in mbl/ embryos and in support of this possibility, overexpression of either wild-type Axin1 or Gsk3 can restore eye and telencephalic fates to mbl/ embryos. Our data reveal a crucial role for Axin1-dependent inhibition of the Wnt pathway in the early regional subdivision of the anterior neural plate into telencephalic, diencephalic, and eye-forming territories.

Roehl, H. and Nüsslein-Volhard, C. (2001). Zebrafish pea3 and erm are general targets of FGF8 signaling. Current Biology 11: 503-507.

Phenotypic analysis of both zebrafish and mouse has shown that fibroblast growth factor 8 (FGF8) is required for many developmental decisions. To further our understanding of the FGF8 signaling process, we sought to identify new transcriptional targets of the pathway. Here, we propose that two zebrafish ETS genes, pea3 and erm, are general targets of FGF8 signaling, based upon the following observations: both genes are expressed around all early FGF8 signaling sources, both genes are downregulated in fgf8 mutant embryos in all tissues known to require fgf8 function, a pharmacological inhibitor of the FGF pathway completely abolishes expression of both genes, and ectopic expression of fgf8 is sufficient to induce both genes. The finding that pea3 and erm are common transcriptional targets of FGF8 signaling suggests that they are general mediators of FGF8 signaling during development. In addition, we observed that pea3 is often expressed close to an FGF8 source, and erm is expressed in a broader domain. To test whether this differential expression is established by FGF8, we have induced FGF8 ectopically and show that it is sufficient to recapitulate the endogenous nested expression pattern of pea3 and erm.