Molecular organization and timing of Wnt1 expression define cohorts of midbrain dopamine neuron progenitors in vivo.
Midbrain dopamine (MbDA) neurons are functionally heterogeneous and modulate complex functions through precisely organized anatomical groups. MbDA neurons are generated from Wnt1-expressing progenitors located in the ventral mesencephalon (vMes) during embryogenesis. However, it is unclear whether the progenitor pool is partitioned into distinct cohorts based on molecular identity and whether the timing of gene expression uniquely identifies subtypes of MbDA neurons. In this study we show that Wnt1-expressing MbDA progenitors from embryonic day (E)8.5-12.5 have dynamic molecular identities that correlate with specific spatial locations in the vMes. We also tested the hypothesis that the timing of Wnt1 expression in progenitors is related to the distribution of anatomically distinct cohorts of adult MbDA neurons using genetic inducible fate mapping (GIFM). We demonstrate that the Wnt1 lineage contributes to specific cohorts of MbDA neurons during a 7-day epoch and that the contribution to MbDA neurons predominates over other ventral Mb domains. In addition, we show that calbindin-, GIRK2-, and calretinin-expressing MbDA neuron subtypes are derived from Wnt1-expressing progenitors marked over a broad temporal window. Through GIFM and quantitative analysis we demonstrate that the Wnt1 lineage does not undergo progressive lineage restriction, which eliminates a restricted competence model of generating MbDA diversity. Interestingly, we uncover that two significant peaks of Wnt1 lineage contribution to MbDA neurons occur at E9.5 and E11.5. Collectively, our findings delineate the temporal window of MbDA neuron generation and show that lineage and timing predicts the terminal distribution pattern of MbDA neurons.