Lineage segregation from multipotent epithelia is a central theme in development and in adult stem cell plasticity. Previously, we demonstrated that striated and smooth muscle cells share a common progenitor within their epithelium of origin, the lateral domain of the somite-derived dermomyotome. However, what controls the segregation of these muscle subtypes remains unknown. We use this in vivobifurcation of fates as an experimental model to uncover the underlying mechanisms of lineage diversification from bipotent progenitors.
Using the strength of spatio-temporally controlled gene missexpression in avian embryos, we report that Notch harbors distinct pro-smooth muscle activities depending on the duration of the signal; short periods prevent striated muscle development and extended periods, through Snail1, promote cell emigration from the dermomyotome towards a smooth muscle fate. Furthermore, we define a Muscle Regulatory Network, consisting of Id2, Id3, FoxC2 and Snail1, which acts in concert to promote smooth muscle by antagonizing the pro-myogenic activities of Myf5 and Pax7, which induce striated muscle fate. Notch and BMP closely regulate the network and reciprocally reinforce each other’s signal. In turn, components of the network strengthen Notch signaling, while Pax7 silences this signaling. These feedbacks augment the robustness and flexibility of the network regulating muscle subtype segregation.
Our results demarcate the details of the Muscle Regulatory Network, underlying the segregation of muscle sublineages from the lateral dermomyotome, and exhibit how factors within the network promote the smooth muscle at the expense of the striated muscle fate. This network acts as an exemplar demonstrating how lineage segregation occurs within epithelial primordia by integrating inputs from competing factors.