Preplacodal ectoderm (PPE) and neural crest (NC) are specified at the interface of neural and nonneural ectoderm and together contribute to the peripheral nervous system in all vertebrates. Bmp activates early steps for both fates during late blastula stage. Low Bmp activates expression of transcription factors Tfap2a and Tfap2c in the lateral neural plate, thereby specifying neural crest fate. Elevated Bmp establishes preplacodal competence throughout the ventral ectoderm by coinducing Tfap2a, Tfap2c, Foxi1 and Gata3. PPE specification occurs later at the end of gastrulation and requires complete attenuation of Bmp, yet expression of PPE competence factors continues well past gastrulation. Here we show that competence factors positively regulate each other's expression during gastrulation, forming a self-sustaining network that operates independently of Bmp. Misexpression of Tfap2a in embryos blocked for Bmp from late blastula stage can restore development of both PPE and NC. However, Tfap2a alone is not sufficient to activate any other competence factors nor does it rescue individual placodes. On the other hand, misexpression of any two competence factors in Bmp-blocked embryos can activate the entire transcription factor network and support the development of NC, PPE and some individual placodes. We also show that while these factors are partially redundant with respect to PPE specification, they later provide non-redundant functions needed for development of specific placodes. Thus, we have identified a gene regulatory network that coordinates development of NC, PPE and individual placodes in zebrafish.
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