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Cell Tissue Res. 2008 Jul;333(1):29-38. doi: 10.1007/s00441-008-0612-x. Epub 2008 May 10.

Analysis of Zfhx1a mutant mice reveals palatal shelf contact-independent medial edge epithelial differentiation during palate fusion.

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Department of Molecular, Cellular & Craniofacial Biology, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY 40202, USA.


Cleft palate is a common birth defect that involves disruptions in multiple developmental steps such as growth, differentiation, elevation, and fusion. Medial edge epithelial (MEE) differentiation is essential for palate fusion. An important question is whether the MEE differentiation that occurs during fusion is induced by palate shelf contact or is programmed intrinsically by the palate shelf itself. Here, we report that the loss of Zfhx1a function in mice leads to a cleft palate phenotype that is mainly attributable to a delay in palate elevation. Zfhx1a encodes a transcription regulatory protein that modulates several signaling pathways including those activated by members of the transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta) superfamily. Loss of Zfhx1a function in mice leads to a complete cleft palate with 100% penetrance. Zfhx1a mutant palatal shelves display normal cell differentiation and proliferation and are able to fuse in an in vitro culture system. The only defect detected was a delay of 24-48 h in palatal shelf elevation. Using the Zfhx1a mutant as a model, we studied the relationship between MEE differentiation and palate contact/adhesion. We found that down-regulation of Jag2 expression in the MEE cells, a key differentiation event establishing palate fusion competence, was independent of palate contact/adhesion. Moreover, the expression of several key factors essential for fusion, such as TGF-beta3 and MMP13, was also down-regulated at embryonic stage 16.5 in a contact-independent manner, suggesting that differentiation of the medial edge epithelium was largely programmed through an intrinsic mechanism within the palate shelf.

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