This investigation provides the first systematic determination of the cellular and molecular progression of vocal fold (VF) epithelium development in a murine model. We define five principal developmental events that constitute the progression from VF initiation in the embryonic anterior foregut tube to fully differentiated and functional adult tissue. These developmental events include (1) the initiation of the larynx and vocal folds with apposition of the lateral walls of the primitive laryngopharynx (embryonic (E) day 10.5); (2) the establishment of the epithelial lamina with fusion of the lateral walls of the primitive laryngopharynx (E11.5); (3) the epithelial lamina recanalization and separation of VFs (E13.5-18.5); (4) the stratification of the vocal folds (E13.5-18.5); and (5) the maturation of vocal fold epithelium (postnatal stages). The illustration of these morphogenetic events is substantiated by dynamic changes in cell proliferation and apoptosis, as well as the expression pattern of key transcription factors, FOXA2, SOX2 and NKX2-1 that specify and pattern the foregut endoderm. Furthermore, we documented the gradual conversion of VF epithelial cells from simple precursors expressing cytokeratins 8 and 18 in the embryo into mature stratified epithelial cells also expressing cytokeratins 5 and 14 in the adult. Interestingly, in the adult, cytokeratins 5 and 14 appear to be expressed in all cell layers in the VF, in contrast to their preferential localization to the basal cell layer in surrounding epithelium. To begin investigating the role of signaling molecules in vocal fold development, we characterized the expression pattern of SHH pathway genes, and how loss of Shh affects vocal fold development in the mutant. This study defines the cellular and molecular context and serves as the necessary foundation for future functional investigations of VF formation.
Keywords: Differentiation; Epithelium; Foregut; Stratification; Vocal fold.
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