The Engrailed homeobox genes determine the different foliation patterns in the vermis and hemispheres of the mammalian cerebellum.
Little is known about the genetic pathways and cellular processes responsible for regional differences in cerebellum foliation, which interestingly are accompanied by regionally distinct afferent circuitry. We have identified the Engrailed (En) homeobox genes as being crucial to producing the distinct medial vermis and lateral hemisphere foliation patterns in mammalian cerebella. By producing a series of temporal conditional mutants in En1 and/or En2, we demonstrate that both En genes are required to ensure that folia exclusive to the vermis or hemispheres form in the appropriate mediolateral position. Furthermore, En1/En2 continue to regulate foliation after embryonic day 14, at which time Fgf8 isthmic organizer activity is complete and the major output cells of the cerebellar cortex have been specified. Changes in spatially restricted gene expression occur prior to foliation in mutants, and foliation is altered from the onset and is accompanied by changes in the thickness of the layer of proliferating granule cell precursors. In addition, the positioning and timing of fissure formation are altered. Thus, the En genes represent a new class of genes that are fundamental to patterning cerebellum foliation throughout the mediolateral axis and that act late in development.