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Development. 2009 May;136(9):1453-64. doi: 10.1242/dev.034967. Epub 2009 Mar 18.

Foxg1 promotes olfactory neurogenesis by antagonizing Gdf11.

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  • 1Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, University of California, Irvine, CA 92697, USA.


Foxg1, a winged-helix transcription factor, promotes the development of anterior neural structures; in mice lacking Foxg1, development of the cerebral hemispheres and olfactory epithelium (OE) is severely reduced. It has been suggested that Foxg1 acts by positively regulating the expression of growth factors, such as Fgf8, which support neurogenesis. However, Foxg1 also binds Smad transcriptional complexes, allowing it to negatively regulate the effects of TGFbeta family ligands. Here, we provide evidence that this latter effect explains much of the ability of Foxg1 to drive neurogenesis in the OE. We show that Foxg1 is expressed in developing OE at the same time as the gene encoding growth differentiation factor 11 (Gdf11), a TGFbeta family member that mediates negative-feedback control of OE neurogenesis. Mutations in Gdf11 rescue, to a considerable degree, the major defects in Foxg1(-/-) OE, including the early, severe loss of neural precursors and olfactory receptor neurons, and the subsequent collapse of both neurogenesis and nasal cavity formation. Rescue is gene-dosage dependent, with loss of even one allele of Gdf11 restoring substantial neurogenesis. Notably, we find no evidence for a disruption of Fgf8 expression in Foxg1(-/-) OE. However, we do observe both a failure of expression of follistatin (Fst), which encodes a secreted Gdf11 antagonist normally expressed in and around OE, and an increase in the expression of Gdf11 itself within the remaining OE in these mutants. Fst expression is rescued in Foxg1(-/-);Gdf11(-/-) and Foxg1(-/-);Gdf11(+/-) mice. These data suggest that the influence of Foxg1 on Gdf11-mediated negative feedback of neurogenesis may be both direct and indirect. In addition, defects in development of the cerebral hemispheres in Foxg1(-/-) mice are not rescued by mutations in Gdf11, nor is Gdf11 expressed at high levels within these structures. Thus, the pro-neurogenic effects of Foxg1 are likely to be mediated through different signaling pathways in different parts of the nervous system.

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