Background: The cerebellum is composed of a diverse array of neuronal subtypes. Here we have used a candidate approach to identify Zac1, a tumor suppressor gene encoding a zinc finger transcription factor, as a new player in the transcriptional network required for the development of a specific subset of cerebellar nuclei and a population of Golgi cells in the cerebellar cortex.
Results: We found that Zac1 has a complex expression profile in the developing cerebellum, including in two proliferating progenitor populations; the cerebellar ventricular zone and the external granular layer overlying posterior cerebellar lobules IX and X. Zac1 is also expressed in some postmitotic cerebellar neurons, including a subset of GABAergic interneurons in the medial cerebellar nuclei. Notably, GABAergic interneurons in the cerebellar nuclei are derived from the cerebellar ventricular zone, where Zac1 is also expressed, consistent with a lineage relationship between these two Zac1+ populations. Zac1 is also expressed in a small subset of cells in the posterior vermis, including some neurogranin-immunoreactive (NG+) Golgi cells, which, based on short-term birthdating, are derived from the EGL, where Zac1 is also expressed. However, Zac1+ cells and NG+ Golgi cells in the cerebellar cortex also display unique properties, as they are generated within different, albeit overlapping, time windows. Finally, consistent with the expression profile of Zac1, two conspicuous abnormalities were found in the cerebellum of Zac1 null mice: the medial cerebellar nuclei, and not the others, were significantly reduced in size; and the number of Golgi cells in cerebellar lobule IX was reduced by approximately 60% compared to wild-type littermates.
Conclusions: The data presented here indicate that the tumor suppressor gene Zac1 is expressed in a complex fashion in the developing cerebellum, including in two dividing progenitor populations and in specific subsets of postmitotic neurons, including Golgi cells and GABAergic neurons in the medial nuclei, which require Zac1 for their differentiation. We thus conclude that Zac1 is a critical regulator of normal cerebellar development, adding a new transcriptional regulator to the growing list of factors involved in generating neuronal diversity in the developing cerebellum.