ABSTRACT

Proper function of the vertebrate skeleton requires the development of distinct articulating embryonic cartilages. Irx transcription factors are arranged in co-regulated clusters that are expressed in the developing skeletons of the face and appendages. IrxB cluster genes are required for the separation of toes in mice and formation of the hyoid joint in zebrafish, yet whether Irx genes have broader roles in skeletal development remains unclear. Here, we perform a comprehensive loss-of-function analysis of all 11 Irx genes in zebrafish. We uncover conserved requirements for IrxB genes in formation of the fish and mouse scapula. In the face, we find a requirement for IrxAb genes and irx7 in formation of anterior neural crest precursors of the jaw, and for IrxBa genes in formation of endodermal pouches and gill cartilages. We also observe extensive joint loss and cartilage fusions in animals with combinatorial losses of Irx clusters, with in vivo imaging revealing that at least some of these fusions arise through inappropriate chondrogenesis. Our analysis reveals diverse roles for Irx genes in the formation and later segmentation of the facial skeleton.

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