The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 46: 415 - 422 (2002)

Vol 46, Issue 4

Special Issue: Developmental Biology in Australia and New Zealand

NK-2 class homeobox genes and pharyngeal/oral patterning: Nkx2-3 is required for salivary gland and tooth morphogenesis

Published: 1 July 2002

Christine Biben, Cheng-Chun Wang and Richard P Harvey

Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, St Vincent's Hospital, Darlinghurst, NSW, Australia.


Head development in vertebrates requires reciprocal patterning interactions between cranial neural crest and the ectodermal, mesodermal and endodermal components of the branchial arches. Patterning elements within the pharyngeal endoderm and oral ectoderm appear to play defining roles in this process. Several homeobox genes of the NK-2 class (Nkx2-1, Nkx2-3, Nkx2-5 and Nkx2-6) are expressed regionally in the developing pharynx, and Nkx2-1 mutants and Nkx2-5/Nkx2-6 double mutants show loss of thyroid and distal lung progenitors, and pharyngeal cell viability, respectively. Here we examined the expression and genetic role of Nkx2-3 in pharyngeal development. Nkx2-3 was expressed in the pharyngeal floor and pouches, as well as in oral and branchial arch ectoderm. Expression persisted in the developing thyroid until birth, in mucous-forming cells of the lingual and sublingual salivary glands, and in odontogenic epithelium of the mandible. Examination of Nkx2-3 null mice revealed defects in maturation and cellular organisation of the sublingual glands. Furthermore, cusps were absent from mandibular molars and the third molar was occasionally missing. These data suggest roles for Nkx2-3 during pharyngeal organogenesis, although the considerable potential for genetic redundancy within and outside of this gene family may mask earlier functions in organ specification.

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