The anatomy of the mammalian thalamus is characterized by nuclei, which can be readily identified in postnatal animals. However, the molecular mechanisms that guide specification and differentiation of neurons in specific thalamic nuclei are still largely unknown, and few molecular markers are available for most of these thalamic subregions at early stages of development. We therefore searched for patterned gene expression restricted to specific mouse thalamic regions by in situ hybridization during the onset of thalamic neurogenesis (embryonic [E] days E10.5-E12.5). To obtain correct regional information, we used Shh as a landmark and compared spatial relationships with the zona limitans intrathalamica (Zli), the border of the p2 and p3 compartments of the diencephalon. We identified genes that are expressed specifically in the ventricular zone of the thalamic neuroepithelium and also identified a number of genes that already exhibited regional identity at E12.5. Although many genes expressed in the mantle regions of the thalamus at E12.5 showed regionally restricted patterns, none of these clearly corresponded to individual thalamic nuclei. We next examined gene expression at E15.5, when thalamocortical axons (TCAs) project from distinct regions of the thalamus and reach their targets in the cerebral cortex. Regionally restricted patterns of gene expression were again seen for many genes, but some regionally bounded expression patterns in the early postnatal thalamus had shifted substantially by E15.5. These findings reveal that nucleogenesis in the developing thalamus is associated with selective and complex changes in gene expression and provide a list of genes that may actively regulate the development of thalamic nuclei.
- In situ hybridization
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