Indexed on: 21 Nov '14Published on: 21 Nov '14Published in: The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience
Specification of spinal cord neurons depends on gene regulation networks that impose distinct fates in neural progenitor cells (NPCs). Olig2 is a key transcription factor in these networks by inducing motor neuron (MN) specification and inhibiting interneuron identity. Despite the critical role of Olig2 in nervous system development and cancer progression, the upstream molecular mechanisms that control Olig2 gene transcription are not well understood. Here we demonstrate that Prox1, a transcription repressor and downstream target of proneural genes, suppresses Olig2 expression and therefore controls ventral spinal cord patterning. In particular, Prox1 is strongly expressed in V2 interneuron progenitors and largely excluded from Olig2+ MN progenitors (pMN). Gain- and loss-of-function studies in mouse NPCs and chick neural tube show that Prox1 is sufficient and necessary for the suppression of Olig2 expression and proper control of MN versus V2 interneuron identity. Mechanistically, Prox1 interacts with the regulatory elements of Olig2 gene locus in vivo and it is critical for proper Olig2 transcription regulation. Specifically, chromatin immunoprecipitation analysis in the mouse neural tube showed that endogenous Prox1 directly binds to the proximal promoter of the Olig2 gene locus, as well as to the K23 enhancer, which drives Olig2 expression in the pMN domain. Moreover, plasmid-based transcriptional assays in mouse NPCs suggest that Prox1 suppresses the activity of Olig2 gene promoter and K23 enhancer. These observations indicate that Prox1 controls binary fate decisions between MNs and V2 interneurons in NPCs via direct repression of Olig2 gene regulatory elements.