Molecular analysis of placodal development in zebrafish
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Vertebrates have evolved a unique way to sense their environment: placodallyderived sense organs. These sensory structures emerge from a crescent-shaped domain, the preplacodal domain, which surrounds the anterior neural plate and generates the paired sense organs as well as the cranial ganglia. For decades, embryologists have attempted to determine the tissue interactions required for induction of various placodal tissues. More recently, technological advances have allowed investigators to ask probing questions about the molecular nature of placodal development. In this dissertation I largely focus on development of the otic placode. I utilize loss-of-function techniques available in the zebrafish model system to demonstrate that two members of the fibroblast growth factors family of secreted ligands, Fgf3 and Fgf8, are redundantly required for otic placode induction. I go on to show that these factors are expressed in periotic tissues from the beginning of gastrulation. These findings are consistent with a model where Fgf3 and Fgf8 signal to preotic tissue to induce otic-specific gene expression. This model does not address other potential inducers in otic induction. A study using chick explant cultures suggests that a member of the Wnt family of secreted ligands also has a role in otic induction. I therefore test the relative roles of Wnt and Fgf in otic placode induction. The results demonstrate that Wnt functions primarily to correctly position the Fgf expression domain and that it is these Fgf factors which are directly received by future otic cells. Lastly, I examine the function of the muscle segment homeobox (msx) gene family expressed in the preplacodal domain. This study demonstrates that Msx proteins refine the boundary between the preplacodal domain and the neural plate. Further, msx genes function in the differentiation and survival of posterior placodal tissues (including the otic field), neural crest and dorsal neural cell types. Loss of Msx function results in precocious cell death and morphogenesis defects which may reflect perturbed BMP signaling.
Phillips, Bryan T. (2004). Molecular analysis of placodal development in zebrafish. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Texas A&M University. Available electronically from