Ubiquitin C-terminal hydrolase L1 (UCH-L1) is a component of the ubiquitin system, which has a fundamental role in regulating various biological activities. However, the functional role of the ubiquitin system in neurogenesis is not known. Here we show that UCH-L1 regulates the morphology of neural progenitor cells (NPCs) and mediates neurogenesis. UCH-L1 was expressed in cultured NPCs as well as in embryonic brain. Its expression pattern in the ventricular zone (VZ) changed between embryonic day (E) 14 and E16, which corresponds to the transition from neurogenesis to gliogenesis. At E14, UCH-L1 was highly expressed in the ventricular zone, where neurogenesis actively occurs; whereas its expression was prominent in the cortical plate at E16. UCH-L1 was very weakly detected in the VZ at E16, which corresponds to the start of gliogenesis. In cultured proliferating NPCs, UCH-L1 was co-expressed with nestin, a marker of undifferentiated cells. In differentiating cells, UCH-L1 was highly co-expressed with the early neuronal marker TuJ1. Furthermore, when UCH-L1 was induced in nestin-positive progenitor cells, the number and length of cellular processes of the progenitors decreased, suggesting that the progenitor cells were differentiating. In addition, NPCs derived from gad (UCH-L1-deficient) mice had longer processes compared with controls. The ability of UCH-L1 to regulate the morphology of nestin-positive progenitors was dependent on its binding affinity for ubiquitin but not on hydrolase activity; this result was also confirmed using gad-mouse-derived NPCs. These results suggest that UCH-L1 spatially mediates and enhances neurogenesis in the embryonic brain by regulating progenitor cell morphology.
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