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Development. 2006 Sep;133(17):3341-7. Epub 2006 Aug 3.

Analysis of cell migration, transdifferentiation and apoptosis during mouse secondary palate fusion.

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Department of Molecular, Cellular and Craniofacial Biology and Birth Defects Center, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY 40202, USA.


Malformations in secondary palate fusion will lead to cleft palate, a common human birth defect. Palate fusion involves the formation and subsequent degeneration of the medial edge epithelial seam. The cellular mechanisms underlying seam degeneration have been a major focus in the study of palatogenesis. Three mechanisms have been proposed for seam degeneration: lateral migration of medial edge epithelial cells; epithelial-mesenchymal trans-differentiation; and apoptosis of medial edge epithelial cells. However, there is still a great deal of controversy over these proposed mechanisms. In this study, we established a [Rosa26<-->C57BL/6] chimeric culture system, in which a Rosa26-originated ;blue' palatal shelf was paired with a C57BL/6-derived ;white' palatal shelf. Using this organ culture system, we observed the migration of medial edge epithelial cells to the nasal side, but not to the oral side. We also observed an anteroposterior migration of medial edge epithelial cells, which may play an important role in posterior palate fusion. To examine epithelial-mesenchymal transdifferentiation during palate fusion, we bred a cytokeratin 14-Cre transgenic line into the R26R background. In situ hybridization showed that the Cre transgene is expressed exclusively in the epithelium. However, beta-galactosidase staining gave extensive signals in the palatal mesenchymal region during and after palate fusion, demonstrating the occurrence of an epithelial-mesenchymal transdifferentiation mechanism during palate fusion. Finally, we showed that Apaf1 mutant mouse embryos are able to complete palate fusion without DNA fragmentation-mediated programmed cell death, indicating that this is not essential for palate fusion in vivo.

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