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Development. 2002 Jul;129(13):3227-39.

A novel positive transcriptional feedback loop in midbrain-hindbrain boundary development is revealed through analysis of the zebrafish pax2.1 promoter in transgenic lines.

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Max-Planck-Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (Dresden), Pfotenhauerstr. 108, 01307 Dresden, Germany.


The pax2.1 gene encodes a paired-box transcription factor that is one of the earliest genes to be specifically activated in development of the midbrain and midbrain-hindbrain boundary (MHB), and is required for the development and organizer activity of this territory. To understand how this spatially restricted transcriptional activity of pax2.1 is achieved, we have isolated and characterized the pax2.1-promoter using a lacZ and a GFP reporter gene in transient injection assays and transgenic lines. Stable transgenic expression of this reporter gene shows that a 5.3-kb fragment of the 5' region contains most, but not all, elements required for driving pax2.1 expression. The expressing tissues include the MHB, hindbrain, spinal cord, ear and pronephros. Transgene activation in the pronephros and developing ear suggests that these pax2.1-expressing tissues are composed of independently regulated subdomains. In addition, ectopic but spatially restricted activation of the reporter genes in rhombomeres 3 and 5 and in the forebrain, which do not normally express endogenous pax2.1, demonstrates the importance of negative regulation of pax2.1. Comparison of transgene expression in wild-type and homozygous pax2.1 mutant no isthmus (noi) embryos reveals that the transgene contains control element(s) for a novel, positive transcriptional feedback loop in MHB development. Transcription of endogenous pax2.1 at the MHB is known to be initially Pax2.1 independent, during activation in late gastrulation. In contrast, transgene expression requires the endogenous Pax2.1 function. Transplantations, mRNA injections and morpholino knock-down experiments show that this feedback regulation of pax2.1 transcription occurs cell-autonomously, and that it requires eng2 and eng3 as known targets for Pax2.1 regulation. We suggest that this novel feedback loop may allow continuation of pax2.1 expression, and hence development of the MHB organizer, to become independent of the patterning machinery of the gastrula embryo.

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