As for any other cell population, the development, cell fate, and properties of mesencephalic dopaminergic (mesDA) neurons are ultimately controlled at the transcriptional level. The genes for two transcription factors Engrailed-1 (En1) and Engrailed-2 (En2) play an essential role in the development and maintenance of these cells. They belong to a family of genes that have been investigated in Drosophila for more than half a century. The products of these genes are all characterized by homeotic tissue transformation and a highly conserved protein sequence, the homeobox. En1 and En2 act upon at least two steps of the differentiation of mesDA neurons. They take part in the regionalization event, which gives rise to the neuroepithelium that provides the precursor cells in the ventral midbrain with the fibroblast growth factor 8 signal necessary for their induction. Additionally, these genes are required in postmitotic mesDA neurons in which they are expressed from embryonic day 12 continuously into adulthood. In mutant mice homozygous null for En1 and En2, the neurons are generated in the ventral midbrain, become postmitotic, and begin to express their neurotransmitter phenotype. However, thereafter, they rapidly die by apoptosis. Cell mixing experiments in vitro and in vivo have demonstrated that the engrailed requirement for the survival of mesDA neurons is cell-autonomous. The inactivation of engrailed by RNA interference induces apoptosis in less than 24 h. These data suggest that the engrailed genes control an essential mechanism for the survival of mesDA neurons.
Cell and Tissue Research – Springer Journals
Published: Sep 1, 2004
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