The mouse Brachyury (T) gene plays critical roles in the genesis of normal mesoderm during gastrulation and in the maintenance of a functioning notochord. Abrogation of Brachyury (T) expression within the chordamesoderm of homozygous null mutants nevertheless spares anterior axis formation. An intriguing possibility to explain the preservation of anterior axis formation in these mutants would be the existence of other genes compensating for the loss of Brachyury. This compensation and the recent demonstration that Brachyury is the prototype for an evolutionarily conserved family, prompted a search for other T-box genes participating in axis formation. The chick Brachyury orthologue and two related chick T-box genes that are expressed at the onset of gastrulation have been isolated. One of these novel genes (Ch-TbxT) becomes restricted to the axial mesoderm lineage and is a potential candidate for complementing or extending Brachyury function in the anterior axis (formation of the head process, prechordal plate). The other gene (Ch-Tbx6L), together with chick T, appears to mark primitive streak progenitors before gastrulation. As cells leave the primitive streak, Ch-Tbx6L becomes restricted to the early paraxial mesoderm lineage and could play a role in regulating somitogenesis.

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