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Scientists crack code for motor neuron wiring

nical advance that enabled the researchers to crack this code. Using these antibodies, Dasen and colleagues pinpointed the pattern of expression of each protein within the set of motor neurons that project to limb muscles. "Once we had these reagents, we were able to obtain the high resolution maps of Hox expression that were necessary to address more complex aspects of Hox function in motor neuron diversification," said Jessell.

To give an idea of the extent of complexity, Jessell explained, "there are few motor columns, yet within each of the columns that projects to the limb there are at least fifty different subtypes of motor neurons, termed motor pools. Our initial work hinted that the Hox code that defines column identity might also be involved in establishing the extreme diversity of motor pools."

Using antibodies to the Hox proteins that define spinal motor neurons, Dasen and colleagues mapped the timing and location of each of the Hox proteins expressed by motor neurons that project to the wing in chick embryos. "It became clear that these proteins weren't randomly expressed, but were expressed in highly precise patterns that corresponded to anatomically-defined motor neuron pools," said Jessell.

Dasen's functional analysis revealed a Hox coding hierarchy. "He found that the Hox proteins involved in pool identity are different from those involved in column identity," said Jessell. "So from these data, the idea began to emerge that within the chromosomal Hox clusters, some Hox proteins are dedicated to broad aspects of motor neuron differentiation, and others to finer aspects of diversification. Ultimately, what crystallized from these experiments was a code -- an organized relationship between Hox proteins, their chromosomal organization, and the differentiation and connectivity of motor neuron pools," he said.

Jessell said this code appears to govern three levels of motor neuron organization: the columnar organization that e
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Source:Howard Hughes Medical Institute


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