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J Neurosci. 2003 Aug 13;23(19):7246-54.

Formation of whisker-related principal sensory nucleus-based lemniscal pathway requires a paired homeodomain transcription factor, Drg11.

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  • 1Department of Anesthesiology, School of Medicine, Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri 63110, USA.


Little is known about the molecular mechanisms underlying the formation of the principal sensory nucleus (PrV) of the trigeminal nerve, a major relay station for somatotopic pattern formation in the trigeminal system. Here, we show that mice lacking Drg11, a homeodomain transcription factor, exhibit defects within the PrV, which include an aberrant distribution of Drg11-/- cells, altered expression of a molecular marker, unusual projections of primary afferents from trigeminal ganglion cells, and, subsequently, increased cell death. In addition, surviving PrV cells exhibit delayed and more spatially restricted ascending projections to the ventral posterior medial nucleus of the thalamus (VPm). These early embryonic abnormalities in the PrV lead to the failure to develop whisker-related patterns in the PrV, VPm, and somatosensory cortex. By contrast, somatotopic patterns exist in the spinal trigeminal subnuclei interpolaris (SpVi) and subnuclei caudalis (SpVc) and the dorsal column nucleus-based lemniscal and cortical pathway. Thus, the deficits in the trigeminal system of Drg11-/- mice are specific to the PrV. Our results demonstrate that Drg11 is essential for proper cellular differentiation and, subsequently, for the formation of the whisker-related lemniscal and cortical structures.

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