Mcl-1 and Bcl-xL are essential for survival of the developing nervous system

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During neurogenesis, proliferating neural precursor cells (NPC) exit the cell cycle and differentiate into postmitotic neurons. The proteins that regulate cell survival through the stages of differentiation, however, are still poorly understood. Here, we examined the roles of the anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 proteins, Mcl-1 and Bcl-xL, in promoting survival as cells progress through the stages of neurogenesis in the mouse embryonic central nervous system. We used Nestin-mediated, nervous system-specific conditional deletion of mcl-1, bcl-x or both to identify their distinct and overlapping roles. Individual conditional deletion of mcl-1 (MKO) and bcl-x (BKO) suggested sequential roles in promoting cell survival during developmental neurogenesis. In the MKO embryo, apoptosis begins at embryonic day 10 (E10) in the proliferating NPC population throughout the entire developing nervous system. In the BKO embryo, apoptosis begins later at E11 within the postmitotic neuron populations. In the double (mcl-1 and bcl-x) conditional knockout (DKO), cell death extended throughout both proliferating and non-proliferating cell populations resulting in embryonic lethality at E12, earlier than in either the MKO or BKO. Apoptotic cell death of the entire central nervous system in the DKO demonstrates that both genes are necessary for cell survival during developmental neurogenesis. To determine whether Mcl-1 and Bcl-xL have overlapping anti-apoptotic roles during neurogenesis, we examined the impact of gene dosage. Loss of a single bcl-x allele in the MKO embryo exasperated apoptotic cell death within the NPC population revealing a novel anti-apoptotic role for Bcl-xL in proliferating NPCs. Cells were rescued from apoptosis in both the MKO and BKO embryos by breeding with the Bax null mouse line indicating that Mcl-1 and Bcl-xL have a common pro-apoptotic target during developmental neurogenesis. Taken together, these findings demonstrate that Mcl-1 and Bcl-xL are the two essential anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 proteins required for the survival of the developing mammalian nervous system.

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This work was supported by grants from the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR), the Research and Development Corporation of Newfoundland and Labrador (RDC-NL) and a Discovery Grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) to J.L.V. L.C.F. was supported by an NSERC studentship, A.K. was supported by an NSERC-USRA. We thank Jieying Xiong, S.M. Mahmudul Hasan, and Yegappan Suppiah for technical assistance.

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Correspondence to Jacqueline L. Vanderluit.

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Fogarty, L.C., Flemmer, R.T., Geizer, B.A. et al. Mcl-1 and Bcl-xL are essential for survival of the developing nervous system. Cell Death Differ 26, 1501–1515 (2019) doi:10.1038/s41418-018-0225-1

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