A fundamental question in developmental neuroscience is how a collection of progenitor cells proliferates and differentiates to create a brain of the appropriate size and cellular composition. To address this issue, we devised lineage-tracing assays in developing zebrafish embryos to reconstruct entire retinal lineage progressions in vivo and thereby provide a complete quantitative map of the generation of a vertebrate CNS tissue from individual progenitors. These lineage data are consistent with a simple model in which the retina is derived from a set of equipotent retinal progenitor cells (RPCs) that are subject to stochastic factors controlling lineage progression. Clone formation in mutant embryos reveals that the transcription factor Ath5 acts as a molecular link between fate choice and mode of cell division, giving insight into the elusive molecular mechanisms of histogenesis, the conserved temporal order by which neurons of different types exit the cell cycle.
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