We have examined the regulation of transcription factor gene expression and phenotypic markers in developing chick sympathetic neurons. Sympathetic progenitor cells first express the bHLH transcriptional regulator Cash-1 (a chicken achaete-scute homologue), followed by coordinate expression of Phox2, a paired homeodomain protein, and GATA-2, a zinc finger protein. SCG10, a pan-neuronal membrane protein, is first detected one stage later, followed by the catecholaminergic neurotransmitter enzyme tyrosine hydroxylase (TH). We have used these markers to ask two questions: (1) is their expression dependent upon inductive signals derived from the notochord or floor plate?; (2) does their sequential expression reflect a single linear pathway or multiple parallel pathways? Notochord ablation experiments indicate that the floor plate is essential for induction of GATA-2, Phox2 and TH, but not for that of Cash-1 and SCG10. Taken together these data suggest that the development of sympathetic neurons involves multiple transcriptional regulatory cascades: one, dependent upon notochord or floor plate-derived signals and involving Phox2 and GATA-2, is assigned to the expression of the neurotransmitter phenotype; the other, independent of such signals and involving Cash-1, is assigned to the expression of pan-neuronal properties. The parallel specification of different components of the terminal neuronal phenotype is likely to be a general feature of neuronal development.

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