Retinoic acid regulates size, Pattern and alignment of tissues at the head-trunk transition

Keun Lee, Keun Lee, Isaac Skromne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


At the head-trunk transition, hindbrain and spinal cord alignment to occipital and vertebral bones is crucial for coherent neural and skeletal system organization. Changes in neural or mesodermal tissue configuration arising from defects in the specification, patterning or relative axial placement of territories can severely compromise their integration and function. Here,we show that coordination of neural and mesodermal tissue at the zebrafish head-trunk transition crucially depends on two novel activities of the signaling factor retinoic acid (RA): one specifying the size and the other specifying the axial position relative to mesodermal structures of the hindbrain territory. These activities are each independent but coordinated with the wellestablished function of RA in hindbrain patterning. Using neural and mesodermal landmarks we demonstrate that the functions of RA in aligning neural and mesodermal tissues temporally precede the specification of hindbrain and spinal cord territories and the activation of hox transcription. Using cell transplantation assayswe showthatRA activity in the neuroepithelium regulates hindbrain patterning directly and territory size specification indirectly. This indirect function is partially dependent on Wnts but independent of FGFs. Importantly,RA specifies and patterns the hindbrain territory by antagonizing the activity of the spinal cord specification gene cdx4; loss of Cdx4 rescues the defects associated with the loss of RA, including the reduction in hindbrain size and the loss of posterior rhombomeres. We propose that at the head-trunk transition, RA coordinates specification, patterning and alignment of neural and mesodermal tissues that are essential for the organization and function of the neural and skeletal systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4375-4384
Number of pages10
JournalDevelopment (Cambridge)
Issue number22
StatePublished - Nov 1 2014


  • Cdx
  • Craniovertebral junction
  • Head-trunk transition
  • Hindbrain
  • Patterning
  • Retinoic acid
  • Spinal cord
  • Zebrafish

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental Biology
  • Molecular Biology


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