During Drosophila myogenesis, Notch signalling acts at multiple steps of the muscle differentiation process. In vertebrates, Notch activation has been shown to block MyoD activation and muscle differentiation in vitro, suggesting that this pathway may act to maintain the cells in an undifferentiated proliferative state. In this paper, we address the role of Notch signalling in vivo during chick myogenesis. We first demonstrate that the Notch1 receptor is expressed in postmitotic cells of the myotome and that the Notch ligands Delta1 and Serrate2 are detected in subsets of differentiating myogenic cells and are thus in position to signal to Notch1 during myogenic differentiation. We also reinvestigate the expression of MyoD and Myf5 during avian myogenesis, and observe that Myf5 is expressed earlier than MyoD, consistent with previous results in the mouse. We then show that forced expression of the Notch ligand, Delta1, during early myogenesis, using a retroviral system, has no effect on the expression of the early myogenic markers Pax3 and Myf5, but causes strong down-regulation of MyoD in infected somites. Although Delta1 overexpression results in the complete lack of differentiated muscles, detailed examination of the infected embryos shows that initial formation of a myotome is not prevented, indicating that exit from the cell cycle has not been blocked. These results suggest that Notch signalling acts in postmitotic myogenic cells to control a critical step of muscle differentiation.

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