SP8 regulates signaling centers during craniofacial development

Dev Biol. 2013 Sep 15;381(2):312-23. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2013.07.007. Epub 2013 Jul 18.


Much of the bone, cartilage and smooth muscle of the vertebrate face is derived from neural crest (NC) cells. During craniofacial development, the anterior neural ridge (ANR) and olfactory pit (OP) signaling centers are responsible for driving the outgrowth, survival, and differentiation of NC populated facial prominences, primarily via FGF. While much is known about the functional importance of signaling centers, relatively little is understood of how these signaling centers are made and maintained. In this report we describe a dramatic craniofacial malformation in mice mutant for the zinc finger transcription factor gene Sp8. At E14.5 they show facial prominences that are reduced in size and underdeveloped, giving an almost faceless phenotype. At later times they show severe midline defects, excencephaly, hyperterlorism, cleft palate, and a striking loss of many NC and paraxial mesoderm derived cranial bones. Sp8 expression was primarily restricted to the ANR and OP regions during craniofacial development. Analysis of an extensive series of conditional Sp8 mutants confirmed the critical role of Sp8 in signaling centers, and not directly in the NC and paraxial mesoderm cells. The NC cells of the Sp8 mutants showed increased levels of apoptosis and decreased cell proliferation, thereby explaining the reduced sizes of the facial prominences. Perturbed gene expression in the Sp8 mutants was examined by laser capture microdissection coupled with microarrays, as well as in situ hybridization and immunostaining. The most dramatic differences included striking reductions in Fgf8 and Fgf17 expression in the ANR and OP signaling centers. We were also able to achieve genetic and pharmaceutical partial rescue of the Sp8 mutant phenotype by reducing Sonic Hedgehog (SHH) signaling. These results show that Sp8 primarily functions to promote Fgf expression in the ANR and OP signaling centers that drive the survival, proliferation, and differentiation of the NC and paraxial mesoderm that make the face.

Keywords: Anterior neural ridge; Craniofacial development; Cyclopamine; FGF17; FGF8; Neural crest; Olfactory pits; SP8; Signaling center.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Cartilage / embryology
  • Cartilage / metabolism
  • Cartilage / pathology
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Craniofacial Abnormalities / embryology
  • Craniofacial Abnormalities / genetics*
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism*
  • Embryo, Mammalian / abnormalities
  • Embryo, Mammalian / pathology
  • Face / abnormalities
  • Face / embryology
  • Female
  • Fibroblast Growth Factor 8 / genetics
  • Fibroblast Growth Factor 8 / metabolism
  • Fibroblast Growth Factors / genetics
  • Fibroblast Growth Factors / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental*
  • Hedgehog Proteins / genetics
  • Hedgehog Proteins / metabolism
  • Mesoderm / embryology
  • Mesoderm / metabolism
  • Mesoderm / pathology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Mutation
  • Neural Crest / embryology
  • Neural Crest / metabolism
  • Neural Crest / pathology
  • Phenotype
  • Pregnancy
  • Signal Transduction*
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism*


  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Fgf17 protein, mouse
  • Fgf8 protein, mouse
  • Hedgehog Proteins
  • Shh protein, mouse
  • Sp8 protein, mouse
  • Transcription Factors
  • Fibroblast Growth Factor 8
  • Fibroblast Growth Factors