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Analysis of constitutive Engrailed (En) null mice previously implicated the two En homeobox paralogs in the development of serotonin (5-HT) neurons. An unresolved question is whether En plays intrinsic roles in these neurons. Here, we show that En1 and En2 are expressed in maturing 5-HT neurons that will form the dorsal raphe nucleus (DRN) and part of the median raphe nucleus. Although En1 expression in 5-HT neurons persists postnatally, En2 expression is extinguished by embryonic day 17.5. To investigate intrinsic serotonergic functions for En1/2, we generated compound conditional En mutants with floxed alleles and a cre recombinase line that becomes active in postmitotic fetal 5-HT neurons. We present evidence in support of a requirement for En1/2 in the maturation of DRN cytoarchitecture. The disruption of DRN cytoarchitecture appears to result from a defect in secondary migration of serotonergic cell bodies toward the midline rather than disruption of their primary ventral migration away from the ventricular zone. Furthermore, En1/2 are required for perinatal maintenance of serotonergic identity and postnatal forebrain 5-HT levels. Increased numbers of caspase-3-expressing cells and loss of significant numbers of 5-HT neuron cell bodies, indicative of apoptosis, occurred after loss of serotonergic identity. Analysis of an allelic series of conditional mutants showed that En1 is the predominant functional En paralog in maturing 5-HT neurons, although a small contribution from En2 was reproducibly detected. Together, our findings reveal complex intrinsic functions for En in maturing 5-HT neurons, hence necessitating a reinterpretation of their roles in 5-HT system development.


Stephanie R Fox, Evan S Deneris. Engrailed is required in maturing serotonin neurons to regulate the cytoarchitecture and survival of the dorsal raphe nucleus. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience. 2012 Jun 6;32(23):7832-42

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PMID: 22674259

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