Independent functions and mechanisms for homeobox gene Barx1 in patterning mouse stomach and spleen

Development. 2007 Oct;134(20):3603-13. doi: 10.1242/dev.009308. Epub 2007 Sep 12.


Homeobox genes convey positional information in embryos and their role in patterning the mammalian gut is a topic of considerable interest. Barx1 is expressed selectively in fetal stomach mesenchyme and directs differentiation of overlying endoderm. Recombinant tissue cultures and study of young mouse embryos previously suggested that Barx1 controls expression of secreted Wnt antagonists, which suppress endodermal Wnt signaling, to enable stomach epithelial differentiation. We overcame mid-gestational lethality of Barx1(-/-) mouse embryos and report here the spectrum of anomalies in a distinctive and unprecedented model of gastrointestinal homeotic transformation. Using various mouse models, we confirm the importance of attenuated Wnt signaling in stomach development and the role of Barx1 in suppressing endodermal Wnt activity. Absence of Barx1 also results in fully penetrant defects in positioning and expansion of the spleen, an organ that originates within the mesothelial lining of the stomach. Barx1 is absent from the spleen primordium but highly expressed in the mesogastrium, indicating an indirect effect on spleen development. However, our results argue against a role for Wnt antagonism in genesis of the spleen. Mouse spleen development relies on several homeodomain transcriptional regulators that are expressed in the spleen primordium. Loss of Barx1 does not affect expression of any of these genes but notably reduces expression of Wt1, a transcription factor implicated in spleen morphogenesis and expressed in the mesothelium. These observations place Barx1 proximally within a Wt1 pathway of spleen development and reveal how a homeotic regulator employs different molecular mechanisms to mold neighboring organs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Endoderm / cytology
  • Endoderm / metabolism
  • Female
  • Gastric Mucosa* / metabolism
  • Homeodomain Proteins* / genetics
  • Homeodomain Proteins* / metabolism
  • In Situ Hybridization
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Morphogenesis*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Spleen* / cytology
  • Spleen* / embryology
  • Spleen* / metabolism
  • Stomach* / cytology
  • Stomach* / embryology
  • Transcription Factors* / genetics
  • Transcription Factors* / metabolism
  • WT1 Proteins / genetics
  • WT1 Proteins / metabolism
  • Wnt Proteins / genetics
  • Wnt Proteins / metabolism


  • Barx1 protein, mouse
  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • Transcription Factors
  • WT1 Proteins
  • Wnt Proteins