The genetic analysis of dorsoventral patterning in Drosophila has identified a zinc-finger gene, snail, that is required for mesoderm formation. The cloning and nuclease protection analysis of a Xenopus homologue of this gene has suggested a possible role in the mesoderm of vertebrates. Here, we describe the cloning of a murine homologue of snail, Sna, and in situ hybridisation studies of its developmental expression. Sequence analysis reveals substantial conservation of the second to fifth zinc fingers, but not of the first zinc finger in the Sna gene. Expression occurs in the ectoplacental cone, parietal endoderm, embryonic and extraembryonic mesoderm, in neural crest and in condensing precartilage. Based on the timing and spatial restriction of expression in embryonic mesoderm, we suggest that Sna might be required for the early development of this tissue, as is the case for its Drosophila counterpart. In addition, we propose that Sna might have an analogous role in the development of neural crest. The expression in condensing precartilage indicates that this gene also has a later function in chondrogenesis.

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