Identification of potential target genes for RFX4_v3, a transcription factor critical for brain development


Address correspondence and reprint requests to Dr Perry J. Blackshear, A2-05 NIEHS, 111 Alexander Dr, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709, USA. E-mail:


Regulatory factor X4 variant transcript 3 (Rfx4_v3) gene disruption in mice demonstrated that interruption of a single allele (heterozygous, +/–) prevented formation of the subcommissural organ, resulting in congenital hydrocephalus, while interruption of two alleles (homozygous, –/–) caused fatal failure of dorsal midline brain structure formation. To identify potential target genes for RFX4_v3, we used microarray analysis to identify differentially expressed genes in Rfx4_v3-deficient mouse brains at embryonic day 10.5, before gross structural changes were apparent. Of 109 differentially expressed transcripts, 24 were chosen for validation and 22 were confirmed by real-time PCR. Many validated genes encoded critical proteins involved in brain morphogenesis, such as the signaling components in the Wnt, bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) and retinoic acid (RA) pathways. Cx3cl1, a CX3C-type chemokine gene that is highly expressed in brain, was down-regulated in the Rfx4_v3-null mice. Both human and mouse Cx3cl1 proximal promoters contained highly conserved X-boxes, known cis-acting elements for RFX protein binding. Using the Cx3cl1 promoter as an example of a target gene, we demonstrated direct binding of RFX4_v3 to the Cx3cl1 promoter, and trans-acting activity of RFX4_v3 protein to stimulate gene expression. These data suggest that RFX4_v3 may act upstream of critical signaling pathways in the process of brain development.