Development (Cambridge, England)

A regulatory network involving Foxn4, Mash1 and delta-like 4/Notch1 generates V2a and V2b spinal interneurons from a common progenitor pool.

PMID 17728344


In the developing central nervous system, cellular diversity depends in part on organising signals that establish regionally restricted progenitor domains, each of which produces distinct types of differentiated neurons. However, the mechanisms of neuronal subtype specification within each progenitor domain remain poorly understood. The p2 progenitor domain in the ventral spinal cord gives rise to two interneuron (IN) subtypes, V2a and V2b, which integrate into local neuronal networks that control motor activity and locomotion. Foxn4, a forkhead transcription factor, is expressed in the common progenitors of V2a and V2b INs and is required directly for V2b but not for V2a development. We show here in experiments conducted using mouse and chick that Foxn4 induces expression of delta-like 4 (Dll4) and Mash1 (Ascl1). Dll4 then signals through Notch1 to subdivide the p2 progenitor pool. Foxn4, Mash1 and activated Notch1 trigger the genetic cascade leading to V2b INs, whereas the complementary set of progenitors, without active Notch1, generates V2a INs. Thus, Foxn4 plays a dual role in V2 IN development: (1) by initiating Notch-Delta signalling, it introduces the asymmetry required for development of V2a and V2b INs from their common progenitors; (2) it simultaneously activates the V2b genetic programme.