Members of the paired box (Pax) gene family are expressed in discrete regions of the developing central nervous system, suggesting a role in neural patterning. In this study, we describe the isolation of the chicken homologues of Pax-3 and Pax-6. Both genes are very highly conserved and share extensive homology with the mouse Pax-3 and Pax-6 genes. Pax-3 is expressed in the primitive streak and in two bands of cells at the lateral extremity of the neural plate. In the spinal cord, Pax-6 is expressed later than Pax-3 with the first detectable expression preceding closure of the neural tube. When the neural tube closes, transcripts of both genes become dorsoventrally restricted in the undifferentiated mitotic neuroepithelium. We show that the removal of the notochord, or implantation of an additional notochord, dramatically alter the dorsoventral (DV) expression patterns of Pax-3 and Pax-6. These manipulations suggest that signals from the notochord and floor plate regulate the establishment of the dorsoventrally restricted expression domains of Pax-3 and Pax-6 in the spinal cord. The rapid changes to Pax gene expression that occur in neural progenitor cells following the grafting of an ectopic notochord suggest that changes to Pax gene expression are an early effect of the notochord on spinal cord patterning.

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