BACKGROUND: The determination of left/right body axis during early embryogenesis sets up a developmental cascade that coordinates the development of the viscera and is essential to the correct placement and alignment of organ systems and vasculature. Defective left-right patterning can lead to congenital cardiac malformations, vascular anomalies and other serious health problems. Here we describe a novel role for the T-box transcription factor gene Tbx6 in left/right body axis determination in the mouse. RESULTS: Embryos lacking Tbx6 show randomized embryo turning and heart looping. Our results point to multiple mechanisms for this effect. First, Dll1, a direct target of Tbx6, is down regulated around the node in Tbx6 mutants and there is a subsequent decrease in nodal signaling, which is required for laterality determination. Secondly, in spite of a lack of expression of Tbx6 in the node, we document a profound effect of the Tbx6 mutation on the morphology and motility of nodal cilia. This results in the loss of asymmetric calcium signaling at the periphery of the node, suggesting that unidirectional nodal flow is disrupted. To carry out these studies, we devised a novel method for direct labeling and live imaging cilia in vivo using a genetically-encoded fluorescent protein fusion that labels tubulin, combined with laser point scanning confocal microscopy for direct visualization of cilia movement. CONCLUSIONS: We conclude that the transcription factor gene Tbx6 is essential for correct left/right axis determination in the mouse and acts through effects on notch signaling around the node as well as through an effect on the morphology and motility of the nodal cilia.
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