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Dev Biol. 2004 Jun 15;270(2):411-26.

Smad2 and Smad3 coordinately regulate craniofacial and endodermal development.

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Program in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210-1392, USA.


Ligands of the transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta) superfamily are involved in numerous developmental and disease processes. TGF-beta, activins, and nodal ligands operate through the highly homologous Smad2 and Smad3 intracellular mediators. Smad2 mutants exhibit early embryonic lethality, while Smad3 mutants are viable, but show a plethora of postnatal phenotypes, including immune dysfunction and skeletal abnormalities. Previously, we have shown that the Smad2 and Smad3 genes function cooperatively during liver morphogenesis. Here we show that Smad2 and Smad3 are required at a full dosage for normal embryonic development. Animals lacking one allele of each gene exhibit a variably penetrant phenotype in which structures in the anterior and ventral midline are reduced or lost; additionally, we demonstrate that this craniofacial defect and the previously reported hepatic phenotypes are both due to defects in the definitive endoderm. A reduction of endodermal gene expression as well as a failure to displace the visceral endoderm occurs despite the formation of a normal foregut pocket. This precedes any defects in anterior patterning and likely causes the abnormalities observed in craniofacial and midline development, as well as hepatogenesis.

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