The Drosophila doublesex (dsx) gene encodes a transcription factor that mediates sex determination. We describe the characterization of a novel zebrafish zinc-finger gene, terra, which contains a DNA binding domain similar to that of the Drosophila dsx gene. However, unlike dsx, terra is transiently expressed in the presomitic mesoderm and newly formed somites. Expression of terra in presomitic mesoderm is restricted to cells that lack expression of MyoD. In vivo, terra expression is reduced by hedgehog but enhanced by BMP signals. Overexpression of terra induces rapid apoptosis both in vitro and in vivo, suggesting that a tight regulation of terra expression is required during embryogenesis. Terra has both human and mouse homologs and is specifically expressed in mouse somites. Taken together, our findings suggest that terra is a highly conserved protein that plays specific roles in early somitogenesis of vertebrates.

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