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J Neurosci. 2011 Sep 28;31(39):13746-57. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1078-11.2011.

Homeodomain interacting protein kinase 2 regulates postnatal development of enteric dopaminergic neurons and glia via BMP signaling.

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Department of Pathology and Cell Biology, Columbia University, New York, New York 10032, USA.


Trophic factor signaling is important for the migration, differentiation, and survival of enteric neurons during development. The mechanisms that regulate the maturation of enteric neurons in postnatal life, however, are poorly understood. Here, we show that transcriptional cofactor HIPK2 (homeodomain interacting protein kinase 2) is required for the maturation of enteric neurons and for regulating gliogenesis during postnatal development. Mice lacking HIPK2 display a spectrum of gastrointestinal (GI) phenotypes, including distention of colon and slowed GI transit time. Although loss of HIPK2 does not affect the enteric neurons in prenatal development, a progressive loss of enteric neurons occurs during postnatal life in Hipk2(-/-) mutant mice that preferentially affects the dopaminergic population of neurons in the caudal region of the intestine. The mechanism by which HIPK2 regulates postnatal enteric neuron development appears to involve the response of enteric neurons to bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs). Specifically, compared to wild type mice, a larger proportion of enteric neurons in Hipk2(-/-) mutants have an abnormally high level of phosphorylated Smad1/5/8. Consistent with the ability of BMP signaling to promote gliogenesis, Hipk2(-/-) mutants show a significant increase in glia in the enteric nervous system. In addition, numbers of autophagosomes are increased in enteric neurons in Hipk2(-/-) mutants, and synaptic maturation is arrested. These results reveal a new role for HIPK2 as an important transcriptional cofactor that regulates the BMP signaling pathway in the maintenance of enteric neurons and glia, and further suggest that HIPK2 and its associated signaling mechanisms may be therapeutically altered to promote postnatal neuronal maturation.

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