We report that the neuronal-specific basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH) gene NSCL-1 is expressed at multiple and distinct stages of cerebellar granule cell differentiation. During embryonic development, NSCI-1 expression is initially evenly distributed in the cerebellar primordium and then becomes restricted to the ventricular zone. At the early steps of granule cell development, NSCL-1 is not expressed in rhombic lip cells, but instead in migrating granule cell precursors. Its expression culminates during postnatal proliferation of the external germinal layer, and remains only transiently in the newly formed internal granular layer, and at a much lower level. Thus, NSCL-1 expression is linked to the onset of granule cell differentiation, but is not involved in the maintenance of the differentiated state. These findings suggest that NSCL-1 does not behave as a specification factor, but rather as a factor promoting expansion of progenitor external germinal layer (EGL) cells. Gel mobility shift assays show that NSCL-1 only binds DNA as a heterodimeric complex with the ME1a E-protein. We also provide the first evidence that NSCL-1 functions as a transcriptional activator when heterodimerized with the ME1a E-protein. Taken together, these results suggest that NSCL-1 participates in the regulatory network controlling gene expression during cerebellar granule cell differentiation.
Copyright 1999 Wiley-Liss, Inc.