Forward genetic analyses can reveal important developmental regulatory genes and how they function to pattern morphology. This is because a mutated gene can produce a novel, sometimes beautiful, phenotype that, like the normal phenotype, immediately seems worth understanding. Generally the loss-of-function mutant phenotype is simplified from the wild-type one, and often the nature of the pattern simplification allows one to deduce how the wild-type gene contributes to patterning the normal, more complex, morphology. This truism seems no less valid for the vertebrate head skeleton than for other and simpler cases of patterning in multicellular plants and animals. To show this, we review selected zebrafish craniofacial mutants. "Midline group" mutations, in genes functioning in one of at least three signal transduction pathways, lead to neurocranial pattern truncations that are primarily along the mediolateral axis. Mutation of lazarus/pbx4, encoding a hox gene partner, and mutation of valentino/kreisler, a hox gene regulator, produce anterior-posterior axis disruptions of pharyngeal cartilages. Dorsoventral axis patterning of the same cartilages is disrupted in sucker/endothelin-1 mutants. We infer that different signal transduction pathways pattern cartilage development along these three separate axes. Patterning of at least the anterior-posterior and dorsoventral axes have been broadly conserved, e.g., reduced Endothelin-1 signaling similarly perturbs cartilage specification in chick, mouse, and zebrafish. We hypothesize that Endothelin-1 also is an upstream organizer of the patterns of cellular interactions during cartilage morphogenesis.
Copyright 2001 Academic Press.