The main features of the development of the serotonin (5-HT) raphe neurons have been known for many years but more recent molecular studies, using mouse genetics, have since unveiled several intriguing aspects of the specification of the raphe serotonergic system. These studies indicated that, although all 5-HT neurons in the raphe follow the same general program for their specification, there are also clear regional differences in the way that these neurons are specified and are guided towards different brain targets. Here we overview recent progress made in the understanding of the developmental programming of serotonergic neurons in the mouse raphe, emphasizing data showing how heterogeneous subsets of 5-HT neurons may be generated. Serotonergic progenitors are produced in the brainstem in different rhombomeres under the influence of a set of secreted factors, sonic hedgehog and fibroblast growth factors, which determine their position in the neural tube. Two main transcriptional gene networks are involved in the specification of 5-HT identity, with Lmx1b and Pet1 transcription factors as main players. A differential requirement for Pet1 was, however, revealed, which underlies an anatomical and functional diversity. Transcriptional programs controlling 5-HT identity could also impact axon guidance mechanisms directing 5-HT neurons to their targets. Although no direct links have yet been established, a large set of molecular determinants have already been shown to be involved in the growth, axon guidance and targeting of 5-HT raphe neurons, particularly within the forebrain. Alterations in the molecular mechanisms involved in 5-HT development are likely to have significant roles in mood disease predisposition.
© 2011 The Authors. European Journal of Neuroscience © 2011 Federation of European Neuroscience Societies and Blackwell Publishing Ltd.