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Gene expression profiling reveals novel attributes of the mouse definitive endoderm McKnight, Kristen Dawn

Abstract

Gastrulation is one of the most critical events of embryogenesis, generating the three primary germ layers (definitive endoderm, mesoderm, and ectoderm) and establishing the embryonic body plan. The definitive endoderm, which generates the lungs, liver, pancreas, and digestive tract, has become a tissue of particular interest in recent years. Understanding definitive endoderm formation and patterning will greatly aid progress in the in vitro differentiation of embryonic stem cells to definitive endoderm for use in treatment of diseases such as diabetes and hepatitis as an alternative for whole organ replacement. Gene targeting studies have demonstrated a critical role for the Nodal signaling pathway and the forkhead transcription factors Foxh1 and Foxa2 in specification of a group of cells referred to as the anterior primitive streak (APS). However, the transcriptional targets of Foxh1 and/or Foxa2 other than Nodal that regulate specification of this group of cells are currently unknown. Fate mapping and lineage tracing experiments have shown the APS to be the source of the definitive endoderm. However, many questions regarding specification and patterning of the definitive endoderm remain. The study of this tissue has been hampered by the lack of genetic markers specific for the definitive endoderm as many of the current markers, including Cerl, Foxa2, and Sox17, are also expressed in the visceral endoderm, an extraembryonic tissue. To further investigate the role of Foxh1 in specification of the anterior primitive streak and to address the lack of genetic markers for the definitive endoderm we performed expression profiling on post-implantation mouse embryos using Affymetrix™ GeneChips®. From this analysis we identified and characterized a novel marker of the mouse definitive endoderm. Examination of this, and other, novel endoderm markers in Foxh1 and Foxa2 deficient mouse embryos revealed that contrary to current models of definitive endoderm formation, we find some definitive endoderm is formed in these mutants. Specifically, specification of the midgut and hindgut definitive endoderm is largely unaffected, while foregut formation is severely affected. These results suggest that the formation of the midgut and hindgut definitive endoderm populations is independent of the anterior primitive streak and separate from the foregut definitive endoderm. This represents a major insight into the mechanisms regulating endoderm formation and patterning.

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