The transcription factor Sox10 is required for the specification, migration and survival of all nonectomesenchymal neural crest derivatives including melanophores. sox10(-/-) zebrafish lack expression of the transcription factor mitfa, which itself is required for melanophore development. We demonstrate that the zebrafish mitfa promoter has sox10 binding sites necessary for activity in vitro, consistent with studies using mammalian cell cultures that have shown that Sox10 directly regulates Mitf expression. In addition, we demonstrate that these sites are necessary for promoter activity in vivo. We show that reintroduction of mitfa expression in neural crest cells can rescue melanophore development in sox10(-/-) embryos. This rescue of melanophores in sox10(-/-) embryos is quantitatively indistinguishable from rescue in mitfa(-/-) embryos. These findings show that the essential function of sox10 in melanophore development is limited to transcriptional regulation of mitfa. We propose that the dominant melanophore phenotype in Waardenburg syndrome IV individuals with SOX10 mutations is likely to result from failure to activate MITF in the normal number of melanoblasts.
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