Defects in closure of embryonic tissues such as the neural tube, body wall, face and eye lead to severe birth defects. Cell adhesion is hypothesized to contribute to closure of the neural tube and body wall; however, potential molecular regulators of this process have not been identified. Here we identify an ENU-induced mutation in mice that reveals a molecular pathway of embryonic closure. Line2F homozygous mutant embryos fail to close the neural tube, body wall, face, and optic fissure, and they also display defects in lung and heart development. Using a new technology of genomic sequence capture and high-throughput sequencing of a 2.5Mb region of the mouse genome, we discovered a mutation in the grainyhead-like 2 gene (Grhl2). Microarray analysis revealed Grhl2 affects the expression of a battery of genes involved in cell adhesion and E-cadherin protein is drastically reduced in tissues that require Grhl2 function. The tissue closure defects in Grhl2 mutants are similar to that of AP-2α null mutants and AP-2α has been shown to bind to the promoter of E-cadherin. Therefore, we tested for a possible interaction between these genes. However, we find that Grhl2 and AP-2α do not regulate each other's expression, E-cadherin expression is normal in AP-2α mutants during neural tube closure, and Grhl2;AP-2α trans-heterozygous embryos are morphologically normal. Taken together, our studies point to a complex regulation of neural tube fusion and highlight the importance of comparisons between these two models to understand more fully the molecular pathways of embryonic tissue closure.
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