We have compared the roles of XASH-3 and NeuroD, two basic helix-loop-helix transcription factors, in the formation of primary neurons in early Xenopus embryos. When ectopically expressed in Xenopus embryos, XASH-3 and NeuroD induce ectopic primary neurons in very different spatial patterns. We show that the pattern of primary neurons induced by XASH-3 and NeuroD can be accounted for by a difference in their sensitivity to inhibitory interactions mediated by the neurogenic genes, X-Delta-1 and X-Notch-1. Both NeuroD and XASH-3 promote the expression of the inhibitory ligand, X-Delta-1. However, XASH-3 appears to be sensitive to the inhibitory effects of X-Delta-1 while NeuroD is much less so. Consequently only a subset of cells that ectopically express XASH-3 eventually form neurons, giving a scattered pattern, while the ectopic expression of NeuroD leads to a relatively dense pattern of ectopic neurons. We propose that differences in the sensitivity of XASH-3 and NeuroD to lateral inhibition play an important role during their respective roles in neuronal determination and differentiation.

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