The dorsal domain of the neural tube is an excellent model to investigate the generation of complexity during embryonic development. It is a highly dynamic and multifaceted region being first transiently populated by prospective neural crest (NC) cells that sequentially emigrate to generate most of the peripheral nervous system. Subsequently, it becomes the definitive roof plate (RP) of the central nervous system. The RP, in turn, constitutes a patterning center for dorsal interneuron development. The factors underlying establishment of the definitive RP and its segregation from NC and dorsal interneurons are currently unknown.
We performed a transcriptome analysis at trunk levels of quail embryos comparing the dorsal neural tube at premigratory NC and RP stages. This unraveled molecular heterogeneity between NC and RP stages, and within the RP itself. By implementing these genes, we asked whether Notch signaling is involved in RP development. First, we observed that Notch is active at the RP-interneuron interface. Furthermore, gain and loss of Notch function in quail and mouse embryos, respectively, revealed no effect on early NC behavior. Constitutive Notch activation caused a local downregulation of RP markers with a concomitant development of dI1 interneurons, as well as an ectopic upregulation of RP markers in the interneuron domain. Reciprocally, in mice lacking Notch activity, both the RP and dI1 interneurons failed to form and this was associated with expansion of the dI2 population.
Collectively, our results offer a new resource for defining specific cell types, and provide evidence that Notch is required to establish the definitive RP, and to determine the choice between RP and interneuron fates, but not the segregation of RP from NC.