Functional studies oftwist during mouse embryogenesis

Zhoufeng Chen, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


A fundamental task in developmental biology is to understand the molecular mechanisms governing early embryogenesis. The aim of this study was to understand the developmental role of a putative basic helix-loop-helix (b-HLH) transcription factor, twist, during mouse embryogenesis. twist was originally identified in Drosophila as one of the zygotic genes, including snail, that were required for dorsal-ventral patterning. In Drosophila embryogenesis, twist is expressed in the cells of the ventral midline destined to form mesoderm. In embryos lacking twist expression, their ventral cells fail to form a ventral furrow and subsequently no mesoderm is formed. During mouse embryogenesis, twist is expressed after initial mesoderm formation in both mesoderm and cranial neural crest cell derivatives. To study the role of twist in vivo, twist-null embryos were generated by gene targeting. Embryos homozygous for the twist mutation die at midgestation. The most prominent phenotype in the present study was a failure of the cranial neural tube to close (exencephaly). twist-null embryos also showed defects in head mesenchyme, branchial arches, somites, and limb buds. To understand whether twist functions cell-autonomously and to investigate how twist-null cells interact with wild-type cells in vivo, twist chimeras composed of both twist-null and wild-type cells marked by the expression of the lacZgene were generated. Chimeric analysis revealed a correlation between the incidence of exencephaly and the contribution of the underlying twist-null head mesenchyme, thus strongly suggesting that twist-expressing head mesenchyme is required for the closure of the cranial neural tube. These studies have identified twist as a critical regulator for the mesenchymal fate determination within the cranial neural crest lineage. Most strikingly, twist-null head mesenchyme cells were always segregated from wild-type cells, indicating that the twist mutation altered the adhesive specificity of these cells. Furthermore, these results also indicated that twist functions cell-autonomously in the head, arch, and limb mesenchyme but non-cell-autonomously in the somites. Taken together, these studies have established the essential role of twist during mouse embryogenesis.

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Recommended Citation

Chen, Zhoufeng, "Functional studies oftwist during mouse embryogenesis" (1994). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI9512001.