doi:10.1038/nindia.2011.106 Published online 14 July 2011
Researchers have pinpointed the 'transcription factor' in the embryonic brain that regulates an important part of the development of the central nervous system (CNS) — the production of neurons and astrocytes (star shaped glial cells).
A transcription factor binds to specific DNA sequences to control the transcription of genetic information from DNA to mRNA. The researchers report that the LIM-homeodomain (LIM-HD) transcription factor Lhx2 regulates the transition of the embryonic neuroepithelial cells into neurons and astrocytes in the developing hippocampus.
Using mice models, the researchers found that disrupting Lhx2 function in the embryonic hippocampus by electroporation and organotypic slice culture resulted in the premature production of astrocytes at a time when neurons should be normally generated.
"Lhx2 function is therefore necessary to suppress astrogliogenesis during the neurogenic period," they report.
They also found that Lhx2 overexpression suppressed the generation of astrocytes and prolonged the time for neuron generation.
The researchers report that the Lhx2 regulation is restricted to the hippocampus since its function in the neocortex did not result in premature production of astrocytes at the expense of the neurons.
"Our results therefore place Lhx2 as a central regulator of the neuron-glia cell fate decision in the hippocampus and reveal a striking regional specificity of this fundamental function," the researchers report.