The facial surface ectoderm is essential for normal development of the underlying cranial neural crest cell populations, providing signals that direct appropriate growth, patterning, and morphogenesis. Despite the importance of the ectoderm as a signaling center, the molecular cues and genetic programs implemented within this tissue are understudied. Here, we show that removal of two members of the AP-2 transcription factor family, AP-2α and AP-2ß, within the early embryonic ectoderm of the mouse leads to major alterations in the craniofacial complex. Significantly, there are clefts in both the upper face and mandible, accompanied by fusion of the upper and lower jaws in the hinge region. Comparison of ATAC-seq and RNA-seq analyses between controls and mutants revealed significant changes in chromatin accessibility and gene expression centered on multiple AP-2 binding motifs associated with enhancer elements within these ectodermal lineages. In particular, loss of these AP-2 proteins affects both skin differentiation as well as multiple signaling pathways, most notably the WNT pathway. We also determined that the mutant clefting phenotypes that correlated with reduced WNT signaling could be rescued by Wnt1 ligand overexpression in the ectoderm. Collectively, these findings highlight a conserved ancestral function for AP-2 transcription factors in ectodermal development and signaling, and provide a framework from which to understand the gene regulatory network operating within this tissue that directs vertebrate craniofacial development.
Keywords: AP-2; Tfap2; WNT signaling; chromosomes; craniofacial; developmental biology; ectoderm; gene expression; mouse; neural crest.
© 2022, Van Otterloo et al.