During early mouse embryo-genesis, cranial neural crest cells (CNCC) emigrate from the posterior midbrain and rhombomeres 1 and 2 of the anterior hindbrain into the first branchial arch-derived maxillary and mandibular processes and there provide cell lineages for several phenotypes, including cartilage, bone, and tooth. Here, we report that Sox9 and Msx2 were coexpressed in a subpopulation of CNCC during their migration. Because Sox9 is a transactivator of chondrogenesis, and Msx genes can act as transcriptional repressors, we hypothesized that Sox9 expression indicates the determination of CNCC-derived chondrogenic cell lineage and that Msx2 represses chondrogenic differentiation until CNCC migration is completed within the mandibular processes. To test whether Msx2 represses chondrogenesis, we designed experiments to inhibit Msx2 function in migratory CNCC in primary cultures through the expression of loss-of-function Msx2 mutants. We showed that infection of migratory CNCC with adenovirus Msx2 mutants accelerated the rate and extent of chondrogenesis, as indicated by the expression level of type II collagen and aggrecan, and the amount of alcian blue staining. Adenovirus infections did not apparently interfere with CNCC proliferation or migration. These findings suggest that an important early event in cranio-facial morphogenesis is a transient expression of both Sox9 and Msx2 during emigration into the forming mandibular processes followed by restricted expression of Sox9 within CNCC-derived chondroprogenitor cells. We conclude that Msx2 serves as a repressor of chondrogenic differentiation during CNCC migration. Published 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
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