We have isolated a new murine homeobox gene, Rpx (for Rathke's pouch homeobox), that is dynamically expressed in the prospective cephalic region of the embryo during gastrulation. Early expression is seen in the anterior midline endoderm and prechordal plate precursor. Expression is subsequently activated in the overlying ectoderm of the cephalic neural plate, suggesting that inductive contact with Rpx-expressing mesendoderm is required for this expression. Subsequently, Rpx expression is extinguished in the mesendoderm while remaining in the prospective prosencephalic region of the neural plate ectoderm. Ultimately, transcripts become restricted to Rathke's pouch, the primordium of the pituitary, which is known to be derived from the most anterior ectoderm of the early embryo. Down regulation of Rpx in the pouch coincides with the differentiation of pituitary-specific cell types. Rpx is the earliest known marker for the pituitary primordium, suggestive of a role in the early determination or differentiation of the pituitary. Since Rpx is expressed so dynamically and so early in the anterior region of the embryo, and since its early expression domain is much more extensive than the region fated to form the pituitary, it is likely that Rpx is involved in the initial determination of the anterior (prechordal) region of the embryo.

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