The transcription factor SOX2 is widely known to play a critical role in the central nervous system; however, its role in peripheral neurogenesis remains poorly understood. We recently developed an hESC-based model in which migratory cells undergo epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) to acquire properties of neural crest (NC) cells. In this model, we found that migratory NC progenitors downregulate SOX2, but then start re-expressing SOX2 as they differentiate to form neurogenic dorsal root ganglion (DRG)-like clusters. SOX2 downregulation was sufficient to induce EMT and resulted in massive apoptosis when neuronal differentiation was induced. In vivo, downregulation of SOX2 in chick and mouse NC cells significantly reduced the numbers of neurons within DRG. We found that SOX2 binds directly to NGN1 and MASH1 promoters and is required for their expression. Our data suggest that SOX2 plays a key role for NGN1-dependent acquisition of neuronal fates in sensory ganglia.
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