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Keywords:

  • AP patterning;
  • Hox genes;
  • Hoxd10, spinal cord, motorneuron identity;
  • axon guidance;
  • chick embryo;
  • lumbosacral spinal cord

Abstract

Hox genes encode anterior–posterior identity during central nervous system development. Few studies have examined Hox gene function at lumbosacral (LS) levels of the spinal cord, where there is extensive information on normal development. Hoxd10 is expressed at high levels in the embryonic LS cord but not the thoracic cord. To test the hypothesis that restricted expression of Hoxd10 contributes to the attainment of an LS identity, and specifically an LS motoneuron identity, Hoxd10 was ectopically expressed in thoracic segments in chick embryos by means of in ovo electroporation. Regional motoneuron identity was assessed after the normal period of motoneuron differentiation. Subsets of motoneurons in transfected thoracic segments developed a molecular profile normally shown by LS motoneurons, including Lim 1 and RALDH2 expression. In addition, motoneurons in posterior thoracic segments showed novel axon projections to two muscles in the anterodorsal limb, the sartorius and anterior iliotibialis muscles. At thoracic levels, we also found a decrease in motoneuron numbers and a reduction in gonad size. These last findings suggest that early and high levels of Hox expression impeded motoneuron development and neural–mesodermal interactions. Despite these adverse effects, our data indicate that Hoxd10 expression is sufficient to induce LS motoneuron identity and axon trajectories characteristic of motoneurons in the LS region. Developmental Dynamics 231:43–56, 2004. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.