Establishing sharp and homogeneous segments in the hindbrainMore about Open Access at the Crick
Studies of the vertebrate hindbrain have revealed parallel mechanisms that establish sharp segments with a distinct and homogeneous regional identity. Recent work has revealed roles of cell identity regulation and its relationships with cell segregation. At early stages, there is overlapping expression at segment borders of the Egr2 and Hoxb1 transcription factors that specify distinct identities, which is resolved by reciprocal repression. Computer simulations show that this dynamic regulation of cell identity synergises with cell segregation to generate sharp borders. Some intermingling between segments occurs at early stages, and ectopic egr2-expressing cells switch identity to match their new neighbours. This switching is mediated by coupling between egr2 expression and the level of retinoic acid signalling, which acts in a community effect to maintain homogeneous segmental identity. These findings reveal an interplay between cell segregation and the dynamic regulation of cell identity in the formation of sharp patterns in the hindbrain and raise the question of whether similar mechanisms occur in other tissues.