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Development. 2014 Nov;141(22):4375-84. doi: 10.1242/dev.109603.

Retinoic acid regulates size, pattern and alignment of tissues at the head-trunk transition.

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Department of Biology, University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL 33146, USA.
Department of Biology, University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL 33146, USA


At the head-trunk transition, hindbrain and spinal cord alignment to occipital and vertebral bones is crucial for coherent neural and skeletal system organization. Changes in neural or mesodermal tissue configuration arising from defects in the specification, patterning or relative axial placement of territories can severely compromise their integration and function. Here, we show that coordination of neural and mesodermal tissue at the zebrafish head-trunk transition crucially depends on two novel activities of the signaling factor retinoic acid (RA): one specifying the size and the other specifying the axial position relative to mesodermal structures of the hindbrain territory. These activities are each independent but coordinated with the well-established function of RA in hindbrain patterning. Using neural and mesodermal landmarks we demonstrate that the functions of RA in aligning neural and mesodermal tissues temporally precede the specification of hindbrain and spinal cord territories and the activation of hox transcription. Using cell transplantation assays we show that RA activity in the neuroepithelium regulates hindbrain patterning directly and territory size specification indirectly. This indirect function is partially dependent on Wnts but independent of FGFs. Importantly, RA specifies and patterns the hindbrain territory by antagonizing the activity of the spinal cord specification gene cdx4; loss of Cdx4 rescues the defects associated with the loss of RA, including the reduction in hindbrain size and the loss of posterior rhombomeres. We propose that at the head-trunk transition, RA coordinates specification, patterning and alignment of neural and mesodermal tissues that are essential for the organization and function of the neural and skeletal systems.


Craniovertebral junction; Head-trunk transition; Hindbrain; Patterning; Retinoic acid; Spinal cord; Zebrafish; cdx

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