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Development. 2003 Dec;130(24):6131-42.

Msx2 and Twist cooperatively control the development of the neural crest-derived skeletogenic mesenchyme of the murine skull vault.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and Hospital, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, 1441 Eastlake Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90089-9176, USA.


The flat bones of the vertebrate skull vault develop from two migratory mesenchymal cell populations, the cranial neural crest and paraxial mesoderm. At the onset of skull vault development, these mesenchymal cells emigrate from their sites of origin to positions between the ectoderm and the developing cerebral hemispheres. There they combine, proliferate and differentiate along an osteogenic pathway. Anomalies in skull vault development are relatively common in humans. One such anomaly is familial calvarial foramina, persistent unossified areas within the skull vault. Mutations in MSX2 and TWIST are known to cause calvarial foramina in humans. Little is known of the cellular and developmental processes underlying this defect. Neither is it known whether MSX2 and TWIST function in the same or distinct pathways. We trace the origin of the calvarial foramen defect in Msx2 mutant mice to a group of skeletogenic mesenchyme cells that compose the frontal bone rudiment. We show that this cell population is reduced not because of apoptosis or deficient migration of neural crest-derived precursor cells, but because of defects in its differentiation and proliferation. We demonstrate, in addition, that heterozygous loss of Twist function causes a foramen in the skull vault similar to that caused by loss of Msx2 function. Both the quantity and proliferation of the frontal bone skeletogenic mesenchyme are reduced in Msx2-Twist double mutants compared with individual mutants. Thus Msx2 and Twist cooperate in the control of the differentiation and proliferation of skeletogenic mesenchyme. Molecular epistasis analysis suggests that Msx2 and Twist do not act in tandem to control osteoblast differentiation, but function at the same epistatic level.

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