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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Zebrafish Mnx proteins specify one motoneuron subtype and suppress acquisition of interneuron characteristics

Steve D Seredick1, Liesl Van Ryswyk1, Sarah A Hutchinson2 and Judith S Eisen1*

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Neuroscience, 1254 University of Oregon, Eugene, OR, 97403, USA

2 Current address: Program in Developmental & Stem Cell Biology, The Hospital for Sick Children, 101 College Street, MaRS East Tower, Room 11-601, Toronto, ON, M5G 1L7, Canada

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Neural Development 2012, 7:35  doi:10.1186/1749-8104-7-35

Published: 5 November 2012



Precise matching between motoneuron subtypes and the muscles they innervate is a prerequisite for normal behavior. Motoneuron subtype identity is specified by the combination of transcription factors expressed by the cell during its differentiation. Here we investigate the roles of Mnx family transcription factors in specifying the subtypes of individually identified zebrafish primary motoneurons.


Zebrafish has three Mnx family members. We show that each of them has a distinct and temporally dynamic expression pattern in each primary motoneuron subtype. We also show that two Mnx family members are expressed in identified VeLD interneurons derived from the same progenitor domain that generates primary motoneurons. Surprisingly, we found that Mnx proteins appear unnecessary for differentiation of VeLD interneurons or the CaP motoneuron subtype. Mnx proteins are, however, required for differentiation of the MiP motoneuron subtype. We previously showed that MiPs require two temporally-distinct phases of Islet1 expression for normal development. Here we show that in the absence of Mnx proteins, the later phase of Islet1 expression is initiated but not sustained, and MiPs become hybrids that co-express morphological and molecular features of motoneurons and V2a interneurons. Unexpectedly, these hybrid MiPs often extend CaP-like axons, and some MiPs appear to be entirely transformed to a CaP morphology.


Our results suggest that Mnx proteins promote MiP subtype identity by suppressing both interneuron development and CaP axon pathfinding. This is, to our knowledge, the first report of transcription factors that act to distinguish CaP and MiP subtype identities. Our results also suggest that MiP motoneurons are more similar to V2 interneurons than are CaP motoneurons.

Zebrafish; Mnx; Motoneuron; Interneuron