Many Hox proteins are thought to require Pbx and Meis co-factors to specify cell identity during embryogenesis. Here we demonstrate that Meis3 synergizes with Pbx4 and Hoxb1b in promoting hindbrain fates in the zebrafish. We find that Hoxb1b and Pbx4 act together to induce ectopic hoxb1a expression in rhombomere 2 of the hindbrain. In contrast, Hoxb1b and Pbx4 acting together with Meis3 induce hoxb1a, hoxb2, krox20 and valentino expression rostrally and cause extensive transformation of forebrain and midbrain fates to hindbrain fates, including differentiation of excess rhombomere 4-specific Mauthner neurons. This synergistic effect requires that Hoxb1b and Meis3 have intact Pbx-interaction domains, suggesting that their in vivo activity is dependent on binding to Pbx4. In the case of Meis3, binding to Pbx4 is also required for nuclear access. Our results are consistent with Hoxb1b and Meis3 interacting with Pbx4 to form complexes that regulate hindbrain development during zebrafish embryogenesis.
We report the first extended culture system for analysing zebrafish (Danio rerio) embryogenesis with which we demonstrate neural induction and anteroposterior patterning. Explants from the animal pole region of blastula embryos ('animal caps') survived for at least two days and increased in cell number. Mesodermal and neural-specific genes were not expressed in cultured animal caps, although low levels of the dorsoanterior marker otx2 were seen. In contrast, we observed strong expression of gta3, a ventral marker and cyt1, a novel type I cytokeratin expressed in the outer enveloping layer. Isolated ‘embryonic shield’, that corresponds to the amphibian organizer and amniote node, went on to express the mesodermal genes gsc and ntl, otx2, the anterior neural marker pax6, and posterior neural markers eng3 and krx20. The expression of these genes defined a precise anteroposterior axis in shield explants. When conjugated to animal caps, the shield frequently induced expression of anterior neural markers. More posterior markers were rarely induced, suggesting that anterior and posterior neural induction are separable events. Mesodermal genes were also seldom activated in animal caps by the shield, demonstrating that neural induction did not require co-induction of mesoderm in the caps. Strikingly, ventral marginal zone explants suppressed the low levels of otx2 in animal caps, indicating that ventral tissues may play an active role in axial patterning. These data suggest that anteroposterior patterning in the zebrafish is a multi-step process.