Background: We previously reported that the homozygous mutation of Otx2 gene, a mouse cognate of the Drosophila head gap gene orthodenticle, causes failure in the development of the rostral head anterior to rhombomere 3, which may correspond to earlier Otx2 expression in cells destined for the anterior mesoendoderm. At the same time, the Otx2 heterozygous mutation displayed a phenotype characterized as otocephaly, probably related to expression in the anterior neuroectoderm at the subsequent pharyngula stage. Defects were characteristic in the most anterior and posterior regions of Otx2 expression where Otx1, another mouse cognate of orthodenticle, is not or weakly expressed. They were not found in the region where Otx1 is expressed.
Results: In the present work, Otx1 null mutant mice were generated by gene targeting in embryonic stem cells. No defects were apparent in the regionalization of the early embryonic rostral brain. The newborn brain defects were subtle and most likely related to later Otx1-unique expression. Otx1 and Otx2 double heterozygous mutant brains, however, exhibited marked defects throughout the fore- and midbrains, where defects were not apparent with a single mutation alone.
Conclusions: Otx1 and Otx2 play synergistic roles in the development of the forebrain and midbrain where both genes are expressed.