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A novel function of DELTA-NOTCH signalling mediates the transition from proliferation to neurogenesis in neural progenitor cells

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  • Barbara Hämmerle
  • Francisco J Tejedor

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Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1169
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 2007


A complete account of the whole developmental process of neurogenesis involves understanding a number of complex underlying molecular processes. Among them, those that govern the crucial transition from proliferative (self-replicating) to neurogenic neural progenitor (NP) cells remain largely unknown. Due to its sequential rostro-caudal gradients of proliferation and neurogenesis, the prospective spinal cord of the chick embryo is a good experimental system to study this issue. We report that the NOTCH ligand DELTA-1 is expressed in scattered cycling NP cells in the prospective chick spinal cord preceding the onset of neurogenesis. These Delta-1-expressing progenitors are placed in between the proliferating caudal neural plate (stem zone) and the rostral neurogenic zone (NZ) where neurons are born. Thus, these Delta-1-expressing progenitors define a proliferation to neurogenesis transition zone (PNTZ). Gain and loss of function experiments carried by electroporation demonstrate that the expression of Delta-1 in individual progenitors of the PNTZ is necessary and sufficient to induce neuronal generation. The activation of NOTCH signalling by DELTA-1 in the adjacent progenitors inhibits neurogenesis and is required to maintain proliferation. However, rather than inducing cell cycle exit and neuronal differentiation by a typical lateral inhibition mechanism as in the NZ, DELTA-1/NOTCH signalling functions in a distinct manner in the PNTZ. Thus, the inhibition of NOTCH signalling arrests proliferation but it is not sufficient to elicit neuronal differentiation. Moreover, after the expression of Delta-1 PNTZ NP continue cycling and induce the expression of Tis21, a gene that is upregulated in neurogenic progenitors, before generating neurons. Together, these experiments unravel a novel function of DELTA-NOTCH signalling that regulates the transition from proliferation to neurogenesis in NP cells. We hypothesize that this novel function is evolutionary conserved.

    Research areas

  • Animals, Base Sequence, Cell Proliferation, Chick Embryo, DNA Primers, Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins, Membrane Proteins, Signal Transduction, Spinal Cord, Stem Cells

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