Xaml1/Runx1 is required for the specification of Rohon-Beard sensory neurons in Xenopus

Byung Yong Park, Chang Soo Hong, Jamie R. Weaver, Elizabeth M. Rosocha, Jean Pierre Saint-Jeannet

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Lower vertebrates develop a unique set of primary sensory neurons located in the dorsal spinal cord. These cells, known as Rohon-Beard (RB) sensory neurons, innervate the skin and mediate the response to touch during larval stages. Here we report the expression and function of the transcription factor Xaml1/Runx1 during RB sensory neurons formation. In Xenopus embryos Runx1 is specifically expressed in RB progenitors at the end of gastrulation. Runx1 expression is positively regulated by Fgf and canonical Wnt signaling and negatively regulated by Notch signaling, the same set of factors that control the development of other neural plate border cell types, i.e. the neural crest and cranial placodes. Embryos lacking Runx1 function fail to differentiate RB sensory neurons and lose the mechanosensory response to touch. At early stages Runx1 knockdown results in a RB progenitor-specific loss of expression of Pak3, a p21-activated kinase that promotes cell cycle withdrawal, and of N-tub, a neuronal-specific tubulin. Interestingly, the pro-neural gene Ngnr1, an upstream regulator of Pak3 and N-tub, is either unaffected or expanded in these embryos, suggesting the existence of two distinct regulatory pathways controlling sensory neuron formation in Xenopus. Consistent with this possibility Ngnr1 is not sufficient to activate Runx1 expression in the ectoderm. We propose that Runx1 function is critically required for the generation of RB sensory neurons, an activity reminiscent of that of Runx1 in the development of the mammalian dorsal root ganglion nociceptive sensory neurons.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)65-75
Number of pages11
JournalDevelopmental Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2012


  • N-Tub
  • Ngnr1
  • Pak3
  • Rohon-Beard
  • Runx1
  • Sensory neurons
  • Xenopus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Cell Biology


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