Cloning and molecular analysis of paraxis: Atrans-acting factor required for somite maturation

Robert Marshall Burgess, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


During vertebrate embryogenesis, cells from the paraxial mesoderm coalesce in a rostral-to-caudal progression to form the somites. Subsequent compartmentalization of the somites yields the sclerotome, myotome and dermatome, which give rise to the axial skeleton, axial musculature, and dermis, respectively. Recently, we cloned a novel basic-Helix-Loop-Helix (bHLH) protein, called scleraxis, which is expressed in the sclerotome, in mesenchymal precursors of bone and cartilage, and in connective tissues. This dissertation focuses on the cloning, expression and functional analysis of a bHLH protein termed paraxis, which is nearly identical to scleraxis within the bHLH region but diverges in both its amino and carboxyl termini. During the process of mouse embryogenesis, paraxis transcripts are first detected at about day 7.5 post coitum within the primitive mesoderm lying posterior to the head and heart primordia. Subsequently, paraxis expression progresses caudally through the paraxial mesoderm, immediately preceding somite formation. Paraxis is expressed at high levels in newly formed somites before the first detectable expression of the myogenic bHLH genes, and as the somite becomes compartmentalized, paraxis becomes downregulated within the myotome. To determine the function of paraxis during mammalian embryogenesis, mice were generated with a null mutation in the paraxis locus. Paraxis null mice survived until birth, but exhibited severe foreshortening along the anteroposterior axis due to the absence of vertebrae caudal to the midthoracic region. The phenotype also included axial skeletal defects, particularly shortened bifurcated ribs which were detached from the vertebral column, fused vertebrae and extensive truncation and disorganization caudal to the hindlimbs. Mutant neonates also lacked normal levels of trunk muscle and exhibited defects in the dermis as well as the stratification of the epidermis. Analysis of paraxis -/- mutant embryos has revealed a failure of the somites to both properly epithelialize and compartmentalize, resulting in defects in somite-derived cell lineages. These results suggest that paraxis is an essential component of the genetic pathway regulating somitogenesis.

Subject Area

Molecular biology|Cellular biology

Recommended Citation

Burgess, Robert Marshall, "Cloning and molecular analysis of paraxis: Atrans-acting factor required for somite maturation" (1995). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI9608029.