Distinct transcriptomes define rostral and caudal serotonin neurons

J Neurosci. 2010 Jan 13;30(2):670-84. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4656-09.2010.


The molecular architecture of developing serotonin (5HT) neurons is poorly understood, yet its determination is likely to be essential for elucidating functional heterogeneity of these cells and the contribution of serotonergic dysfunction to disease pathogenesis. Here, we describe the purification of postmitotic embryonic 5HT neurons by flow cytometry for whole-genome microarray expression profiling of this unitary monoaminergic neuron type. Our studies identified significantly enriched expression of hundreds of unique genes in 5HT neurons, thus providing an abundance of new serotonergic markers. Furthermore, we identified several hundred transcripts encoding homeodomain, axon guidance, cell adhesion, intracellular signaling, ion transport, and imprinted genes associated with various neurodevelopmental disorders that were differentially enriched in developing rostral and caudal 5HT neurons. These findings suggested a homeodomain code that distinguishes rostral and caudal 5HT neurons. Indeed, verification studies demonstrated that Hmx homeodomain and Hox gene expression defined an Hmx(+) rostral subtype and Hox(+) caudal subtype. Expression of engrailed genes in a subset of 5HT neurons in the rostral domain further distinguished two subtypes defined as Hmx(+)En(+) and Hmx(+)En(-). The differential enrichment of gene sets for different canonical pathways and gene ontology categories provided additional evidence for heterogeneity between rostral and caudal 5HT neurons. These findings demonstrate a deep transcriptome and biological pathway duality for neurons that give rise to the ascending and descending serotonergic subsystems. Our databases provide a rich, clinically relevant resource for definition of 5HT neuron subtypes and elucidation of the genetic networks required for serotonergic function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Computational Biology / methods
  • Embryo, Mammalian
  • Flow Cytometry / methods
  • Gene Expression Profiling / methods
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental / physiology*
  • Homeodomain Proteins / genetics
  • Luminescent Proteins / genetics
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Neurons / classification*
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis / methods
  • Rhombencephalon / cytology
  • Serotonin / metabolism*


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • Luminescent Proteins
  • yellow fluorescent protein, Bacteria
  • Serotonin