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Periodic Notch inhibition by Lunatic Fringe underlies the chick segmentation clock


The segmented aspect of the vertebrate body plan first arises through the sequential formation of somites. The periodicity of somitogenesis is thought to be regulated by a molecular oscillator, the segmentation clock, which functions in presomitic mesoderm cells. This oscillator controls the periodic expression of ‘cyclic genes’, which are all related to the Notch pathway1,2,3,4,5,6,7. The mechanism underlying this oscillator is not understood. Here we show that the protein product of the cyclic gene lunatic fringe (Lfng), which encodes a glycosyltransferase that can modify Notch activity, oscillates in the chick presomitic mesoderm. Overexpressing Lfng in the paraxial mesoderm abolishes the expression of cyclic genes including endogenous Lfng and leads to defects in segmentation. This effect on cyclic genes phenocopies inhibition of Notch signalling in the presomitic mesoderm. We therefore propose that Lfng establishes a negative feedback loop that implements periodic inhibition of Notch, which in turn controls the rhythmic expression of cyclic genes in the chick presomitic mesoderm. This feedback loop provides a molecular basis for the oscillator underlying the avian segmentation clock.

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Figure 1: Lfng protein oscillates in the chick PSM.
Figure 2: Misexpression of Lfng or dnRBPjK abolishes cyclic expression of Lfng, whereas Notchicd causes ectopic expression of Lfng.
Figure 3: Lfng misexpression severely disrupts positioning of somitic borders and antero-posterior somitic compartmentalization.
Figure 4: Blocking Notch cleavage blocks the segmentation clock.


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We thank A.-C. Petit for help with analysing the Lfng mRNA expression profile; J. P. Rey for technical assistance; K. Katsube, D. Henrique, S. Mackem, O. Saitoh, E. Olson, M. Wolfe, A. Israel and R. Kopan for reagents; P. Torregrossa for help with statistical analysis; R. Kageyama for sharing unpublished information; T. Lecuit, S. Kerridge, D. Ish-Horowicz, M. Wolfe, M. Placzek, C. Hudson, J. Dubrulle, T. Iimura, S. Millet and V. Baubet for comments on the manuscript. This work was supported by a Wellcome Prize Travelling Research Fellowship, an EMBO Long term Fellowship, and a Fondation pour la recherche médicale (FRM) Postdoctoral Fellowship to J.K.D, a Marie Curie Individual Fellowship from the European Commission to M.M., and the laboratory was supported by funding from Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS), Human Frontiers Science Programme Organisation (HESPO), Association franc¸aise contre les myopathies (AFM) and the Universite de la méditerranée-AP de Marseille.

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Correspondence to O. Pourquie.

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Dale, J., Maroto, M., Dequeant, ML. et al. Periodic Notch inhibition by Lunatic Fringe underlies the chick segmentation clock. Nature 421, 275–278 (2003).

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