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Dev Biol. 1997 Nov 15;191(2):215-29.

The expression domain of two related homeobox genes defines a compartment in the chicken inner ear that may be involved in semicircular canal formation.

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Department of Biology, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts 02167, USA.


Homeobox-containing genes encode a class of proteins that control patterning in developing systems, in some cases by acting as selector genes that define compartment identity. In an effort to demonstrate a similar role for such genes during ear development in the chicken, we present a detailed expression study of two related homeobox-containing genes, SOHo-1 and GH6, using in situ hybridization. At otocyst stages the two genes define a broad lateral domain of expression, which may represent a developmental compartment. Three-dimensional computer reconstructions of SOHo-1 expression at these and later stages revealed that the lateral domain becomes progressively restricted to the three semicircular canals. Thus, SOHo-1 and GH6 are among a small group of markers for a specific structural component of the inner ear. The gene expression domain initially includes the sensory regions of the semicircular canals, known as the cristae ampullaris, but none of the other four sensory organs which were recognizable by BMP4 expression during early morphogenesis (stages 19-24). Significantly, two of the sensory organs (the superior and posterior cristae) were found at the limits, or boundaries, of the SOHo-1/GH6 expression domain, suggesting that compartment boundaries may be involved in specifying sensory organ location as well as identity. Maintained expression at the boundaries may aid in specifying the location of canal outgrowth. These concepts are presented as a formal model which emphasizes that patterning information could be provided at the boundaries of gene expression domains in the inner ear.

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