The Slug gene encodes a zinc finger protein, homologous to the product of the Drosophila Snail gene, that is implicated in the generation and migration of both mesoderm and neural crest cells in several vertebrate species. We describe here the cloning and genetic analysis of the mouse Slug (Slugh) gene. Slugh encodes a 269-amino-acid protein the shares 92% amino acid identity with the product of the chicken Slug gene. We have characterized Slugh gene expression during early mouse embryogenesis by whole mount in situ hybridization of Slugh mRNA and through detection of beta-galactosidase expression from an in-frame SlughIacZ allele generated through homologous recombination. Slugh expression is first detected in extraembryonic mesoderm and is later detected in many mesodermal subsets, although it is not detected in the primitive streak. In contrast to many other vertebrates, the mouse Slug gene is not expressed in premigratory neural crest cells but is expressed in migratory neural crest cells. Analysis of a targeted null mutation that deleted all Slugh coding sequences revealed that Slugh is not required for mesoderm formation or for neural crest generation, migration, or development in mice. These results indicate that neither the expression pattern nor the biological function of the Slug gene is conserved among all vertebrates. These data also raise interesting questions about the regulation of neural crest generation, which is one of the distinguishing characteristics of the vertebrate subphylum.
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