Vertebrate class III POU genes are widely expressed in the embryonic and adult central nervous system, where they act as transcriptional regulators of cell- and/or region-specific gene expression. We isolated four zebrafish class III POU genes, named zp-12, zp-23, zp-47 and zp-50. In this study, we examined the developmental expression patterns of the Brn-1- and Brn-2-related zp-12, zp-23 and zp-47 genes by means of whole-mount in situ hybridization. Similarly to their mammalian orthologues, the major expression site of all zebrafish zp genes is the CNS. Neurectodermal expression was first detected at the beginning of somitogenesis in spatially restricted segment-like domains in different parts of the neural plate. During somitogenesis transcript distributions changed from highly restricted to widespread but nevertheless distinct patterns found in all major subdivisions of the CNS. While zp-47 expression was detected exclusively in the CNS, localized expression of zp-12 and zp-23 was also found in the pronephric primordium and in cell clusters within the mandibular and hyoid arches. Furthermore, zp-23 transcripts were transiently detected in a restricted region of the paraxial mesendoderm and, at late embryogenesis stages, in the auditory vesicles. The early regionalized expression of all three zp genes is compatible with roles in regional specification of the neural plate. Comparison of the distinct yet overlapping expression of zp-12, zp-23, zp-47 and the previously characterized zp-50 gene implies both unique, as well as redundant functions for each family member. We propose that coordinate expression of particular combinations of class III POU genes contribute to pattern formation or cell fate determination in the developing CNS and other structures.
Copyright 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.