Timing of Sonic hedgehog and Gli1 expression segregates midbrain dopamine neurons

J Comp Neurol. 2011 Oct 15;519(15):3001-18. doi: 10.1002/cne.22711.


The ventral midbrain (vMb) is organized into distinct anatomical domains and contains cohorts of functionally distinct subtypes of midbrain dopamine (mDA) neurons. We tested the hypothesis that genetic history and timing of gene expression within mDA neuron progenitors impart spatial diversity. Using genetic inducible fate mapping to mark the Sonic hedgehog (Shh) and Gli1 lineages at varying embryonic stages, we performed a quantitative and qualitative comparison of the two lineages' contribution to the mDA neuron domains. Dynamic changes in Shh and Gli1 expression in the vMb primordia delineated their spatial contribution to the embryonic day 12.5 vMb: Both lineages first contributed to the medial domain, but subsequently the Gli1 lineage exclusively contributed to the lateral vMb while the Shh lineage expanded more broadly across the vMb. The contribution of both lineages to the differentiated mDA neuron domain was initially biased anteriorly and became more uniform across the anterior/posterior vMb throughout development. Our findings demonstrate that the early Shh and Gli1 lineages specify mDA neurons of the substantia nigra pars compacta while the late Shh and Gli1 lineages maintain their progenitor state longer in the posterior vMb to extend the production of mDA neurons in the ventral tegmental area. Together, our study demonstrates that the timing of gene expression along with the genetic lineage (Shh or Gli1) within the neural progenitors segregate mDA neurons into distinct spatial domains.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Lineage
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Embryo, Mammalian / anatomy & histology
  • Embryo, Mammalian / physiology
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental*
  • Hedgehog Proteins / genetics
  • Hedgehog Proteins / metabolism*
  • Kruppel-Like Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Kruppel-Like Transcription Factors / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Mesencephalon / cytology*
  • Mesencephalon / embryology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Zinc Finger Protein GLI1


  • Gli1 protein, mouse
  • Hedgehog Proteins
  • Kruppel-Like Transcription Factors
  • Shh protein, mouse
  • Zinc Finger Protein GLI1
  • Dopamine