The heterochronic genes Lin28a/b and let-7 regulate invertebrate development, but their functions in patterning the mammalian body plan remain unexplored. Here, we describe how Lin28/let-7 influence caudal vertebrae number during body axis formation. We found that FoxD1-driven overexpression of Lin28a strikingly increased caudal vertebrae number and tail bud cell proliferation, whereas its knockout did the opposite. Lin28a overexpression downregulated the neural marker Sox2, causing a pro-mesodermal phenotype with a decreased proportion of neural tissue relative to nascent mesoderm. Manipulating Lin28a and let-7 led to opposite effects, and manipulating Lin28a's paralog, LIN28B caused similar yet distinct phenotypes. These findings suggest that Lin28/let-7 play a role in the regulation of tail length through heterochrony of the body plan. We propose that the Lin28/let-7 pathway controls the pool of caudal progenitors during tail development, promoting their self-renewal and balancing neural versus mesodermal cell fate decisions.
Keywords: Lin28; Sox2; body axis elongation; body plan; cell fate; development; heterochrony; let-7 miRNA; somitogenesis; tail bud.
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