The expression of the cell recognition molecule F3/Contactin (CNTN1) is generally associated with the functions of post-mitotic neurons. In the embryonic cortex, however, we find it expressed by proliferating ventricular zone (VZ) precursors. In contrast to previous findings in the developing cerebellum, F3/Contactin transgenic overexpression in the early cortical VZ promotes proliferation and expands the precursor pool at the expense of neurogenesis. At later stages, when F3/Contactin levels subside, however, neurogenesis resumes, suggesting that F3/Contactin expression in the VZ is inversely related to neurogenesis and plays a role in a feedback control mechanism, regulating the orderly progression of cortical development. The modified F3/Contactin profile therefore results in delayed corticogenesis, as judged by downregulation in upper and lower layer marker expression and by BrdU birth dating, indicating that, in this transgenic model, increased F3/Contactin levels counteract neuronal precursor commitment. These effects also occur in primary cultures and are reproduced by addition of an F3/Fc fusion protein to wild type cultures. Together, these data indicate a completely novel function for F3/Contactin. Parallel changes in the generation of the Notch Intracellular Domain and in the expression of the Hes-1 transcription factor indicate that activation of the Notch pathway plays a role in this phenotype, consistent with previous in vitro reports that F3/Contactin is a Notch1 ligand.
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