Key processes in development, including differential cell proliferation, programmed cell death, migration and cell-cell interactions are recapitulated in a pathologic manner during oncogenesis and metastasis, suggesting an aberrant regulation or 're-activation' of such processes. For example, FGF, Wnt, and Shh signaling pathways are all involved in the genesis of certain human neoplasias. Understanding how developmental processes are normally regulated will be invaluable in deciphering tumor biology and ultimately help to identify new ways to intercept cellular targets that drive tumor cell behavior. My lab identified several new transcription factors (homeobox genes and T-box genes) that appear to play roles in the formation and pattern of the primary embryonic axis and the limb axis in vertebrate embryos. Analyzing the role that such regulators play in different developmental contexts may offer new insights into the sorts of basic processes that they govern in the cell. We are analyzing the normal developmental functions of several regulators with the long term aim of linking steps from initial differences in patterns of gene expression to ultimate differences in tissue morphology and structure in the embryo. In this context, potential roles in oncogenesis and other pathologic conditions are also being considered. 1. Initiation of limb budding: function of the transcription factor T (Brachyury). The initiation of limb bud formation and induction of the apical ectodermal ridge (AER) that directs subsequent limb outgrowth appear to be regulated by a cascade of FGF and Wnt signals. Intermediate target genes in this signal relay are largely unknown. Using retroviral misexpression in chick embryos, we have found that the T-box transcription factor T regulates the formation and maintenance of the AER. T is expressed in the early limb bud (in the mesoderm just underneath the AER) and is regulated by both FGF and Wnt signals. Overexpression causes extension of the AER and additional limb outgrowth, producing extra digits. Mouse embryos mutant for T (-/-) die at E10.5 but do form forelimb buds which are small. These limb buds do not have a normal AER and have very irregular Fgf-8 expression, also consistent with a role for T in normal AER formation. We don't yet know whether T misexpression by itself is sufficient to induce formation of an ectopic limb bud in the flank, as for example, FGF beads or Wnt misexpression can do. Other T-box genes, Tbx5 and Tbx4, regulate both limb identity and limb outgrowth, and also function apparently downstream of Wnt and FGF signals. We are evaluating whether AER formation and outgrowth is regulated by T-Tbx heterodimers and we are generating a T conditional knock out to further analyze T function in limb development. In parallel studies, we are developing chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) assays in embryos to allow direct identification of target promoters which T binds to in vivo. We have successfully piloted ChIP assays in primitive streak lysates from early gastrula embryos where T is highly expressed, and have demonstrated T binding to the Wnt11 promoter, which has been proposed by others to be a direct T target. 2. Determination of limb skeletal pattern: early Hoxd functions in SHH pathway. The limb skeleton arises from a bud by progressive branching of skeletal precursors from proximal to distal (ie. shoulder to hand). The 'pattern' of skeletal elements that form from anterior to posterior (thumb to little finger) is regulated by secreted Sonic hedgehog (SHH) signals from the posterior edge of the limb bud. Hoxd genes are thought to be key targets of SHH signaling that regulate the pattern of skeletal components forming in the limb. Their function in molecular terms and the target genes they regulate are still unknown. Using transgenic mouse models, we found that Hoxd12 regulates Shh expression and the SHH pathway as part of a positive feedback loop in the early limb bud which reinforces and amplifies patterning signals at the right sites. We are evaluating the mechanism by which Hoxd genes can alter the SHH pathway. The Gli3 transcriptional repressor is a major mediator of SHH in the developing limb. We have now found that a direct interaction between Gli3 and Hoxd proteins alters the Sonic hedgehog pathway and skeletal patterning during limb development. Antagonism of Gli3 transcriptional repressor function by SHH signaling derepresses SHH target genes in the limb. Gli3 and Hoxd12 interact genetically and physically, and this interaction converts Gli3 from a repressor into an activator of SHH target genes. Several 5'Hoxd genes interact with Gli3, and we propose that the sum of these interactions determines the levels of expression of Gli3-regulated SHH target genes which regulate the pattern of different digits that form. Recent work has identified a late capability of interdigit signals to change digit identities, even after early digit primordia have already begun to form. These interdigit zones are also late sites of high level Hoxd and Gli3 repressor expression which may thus contribute to this late regulation of digit identity. We are planning Hoxd and Gli3 misexpression experiments in the chick to evaluate the effects on digit patterns formed by varying Hoxd:Gli3 ratios in specific interdigits. We are also devising experiments to alter Gli3-Hoxd ratios at various different times in mice using transgenic approaches. 3. Chondrogenic differentiation of limb skeletal elements: late Hoxd functions. Hoxd genes continue to be expressed quite late at the periphery of chondrogenic condensations that will form the distal skeletal elements (digits), as well as certain long bone progenitors at an earlier stage, but their expression generally shuts off as cartilage differentiation proceeds within the condensations. We developed an inducible transgenic model to selectively analyze later developmental functions of 5' Hoxd genes in association with condensing and differentiating cartilage. This conditional expression approach (using Cre recombinase) will also allow us to identify molecular targets using DNA microarray analysis of transgenic embryonic limb buds. Our preliminary results with late Hoxd12 or Hoxd13 misexpression indicate that Hoxd gene expression must shut off to allow early steps in cartilage differentiation for cartilage precursors of only certain bone elements. When limb mesoderm first condenses to initiate chondrogenesis, prolonging Hoxd expression within the differentiating condensations has a striking effect on long bone precursors. Failure to shut off Hoxd expression during early condensation phase prevents the differentiation of the large, proximal long bone condensations into cartilage while digit formation is relatively spared, indicating that this inhibition of differentiation is spatially context dependent. The inhibition apparently occurs through repression of Sox9 expression (a master-switch for cartilage differentiation) by Hoxd genes. The timing for inhibition is also critical; if Hoxd misexpression is initiated slightly later just after cartilage differentiation begins in condensations, Hoxd genes no longer have an affect on the cartilage differentiation program. Chromatin immunoprecipitation assays for Hoxd binding in vivo are being developed in parallel with the conditional transgenic approaches and microarray analyses to identify and analyze regulation of Hoxd gene target promoters.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Division of Clinical Sciences - NCI (NCI)
Intramural Research (Z01)
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Clinical Sciences
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Ohtola, Jennifer; Myers, John; Akhtar-Zaidi, Batool et al. (2008) beta-Catenin has sequential roles in the survival and specification of ventral dermis. Development 135:2321-9
Maeda, Yukiko; Nakamura, Eiichiro; Nguyen, Minh-Thanh et al. (2007) Indian Hedgehog produced by postnatal chondrocytes is essential for maintaining a growth plate and trabecular bone. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 104:6382-7
Nakamura, Eiichiro; Nguyen, Minh-Thanh; Mackem, Susan (2006) Kinetics of tamoxifen-regulated Cre activity in mice using a cartilage-specific CreER(T) to assay temporal activity windows along the proximodistal limb skeleton. Dev Dyn 235:2603-12
Furusawa, Takashi; Lim, Jae-Hwan; Catez, Frederic et al. (2006) Down-regulation of nucleosomal binding protein HMGN1 expression during embryogenesis modulates Sox9 expression in chondrocytes. Mol Cell Biol 26:592-604
Chen, Yuting; Knezevic, Vladimir; Ervin, Valerie et al. (2004) Direct interaction with Hoxd proteins reverses Gli3-repressor function to promote digit formation downstream of Shh. Development 131:2339-47
Liu, Chunqiao; Nakamura, Eiichiro; Knezevic, Vladimir et al. (2003) A role for the mesenchymal T-box gene Brachyury in AER formation during limb development. Development 130:1327-37