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Compartmentalised expression of Delta-like 1 in epithelial somites is required for the formation of intervertebral joints

Author(s): Teppner Ingeborg | Becker Sonja | de Angelis Martin | Gossler Achim | Beckers Johannes

Journal: BMC Developmental Biology
ISSN 1471-213X

Volume: 7;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 68;
Date: 2007;
Original page

Abstract Background Expression of the mouse Delta-like 1 (Dll1) gene in the presomitic mesoderm and in the caudal halves of somites of the developing embryo is required for the formation of epithelial somites and for the maintenance of caudal somite identity, respectively. The rostro-caudal polarity of somites is initiated early on within the presomitic mesoderm in nascent somites. Here we have investigated the requirement of restricted Dll1 expression in caudal somite compartments for the maintenance of rostro-caudal somite polarity and the morphogenesis of the axial skeleton. We did this by overexpressing a functional copy of the Dll1 gene throughout the paraxial mesoderm, in particular in anterior somite compartments, during somitogenesis in transgenic mice. Results Epithelial somites were generated normally and appeared histologically normal in embryos of two independent Dll1 over-expressing transgenic lines. Gene expression analyses of rostro-caudal marker genes suggested that over-expression of Dll1 without restriction to caudal compartments was not sufficient to confer caudal identity to rostral somite halves in transgenic embryos. Nevertheless, Dll1 over-expression caused dysmorphologies of the axial skeleton, in particular, in morphological structures that derive from the articular joint forming compartment of vertebrae. Accordingly, transgenic animals exhibited missing or reduced intervertebral discs, rostral and caudal articular processes as well as costal heads of ribs. In addition, the midline of the vertebral column did not develop normally. Transgenic mice had open neural arches and split vertebral bodies with ectopic pseudo-growth plates. Endochondral bone formation and ossification in the developing vertebrae were delayed. Conclusion The mice overexpressing Dll1 exhibit skeletal dysmorphologies that are also evident in several mutant mice with defects in somite compartmentalisation. The Dll1 transgenic mice demonstrate that vertebral dysmorphologies such as bony fusions of vertebrae and midline vertebral defects can occur without apparent changes in somitic rostro-caudal marker gene expression. Also, we demonstrate that the over-expression of the Dll1 gene in rostral epithelial somites is not sufficient to confer caudal identity to rostral compartments. Our data suggest that the restricted Dll1 expression in caudal epithelial somites may be particularly required for the proper development of the intervertebral joint forming compartment.
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