Ascl1 is required for the development of specific neuronal subtypes in the enteric nervous system


The enteric nervous system (ENS) is organized into neural circuits within the gastrointestinal wall where it controls the peristaltic movements, secretion, and blood flow. Although proper gut function relies on the complex neuronal composition of the ENS, little is known about the transcriptional networks that regulate the diversification into different classes of enteric neurons and glia during development. Here we redefine the role of Ascl1 (Mash1), one of the few regulatory transcription factors described during ENS development. We show that enteric glia and all enteric neuronal subtypes appear to be derived from Ascl1-expressing progenitor cells. In the gut of Ascl1(-/-) mutant mice, neurogenesis is delayed and reduced, and posterior gliogenesis impaired. The ratio of neurons expressing Calbindin, TH, and VIP is selectively decreased while, for instance, 5-HT(+) neurons, which previously were believed to be Ascl1-dependent, are formed in normal numbers. Essentially the same differentiation defects are observed in Ascl1(KINgn2) transgenic mutants, where the proneural activity of Ngn2 replaces Ascl1, demonstrating that Ascl1 is required for the acquisition of specific enteric neuronal subtype features independent of its role in neurogenesis. In this study, we provide novel insights into the expression and function of Ascl1 in the differentiation process of specific neuronal subtypes during ENS development.

Journal details

Volume 36
Issue number 15
Pages 4339-4350
Available online
Publication date