Cheesman, S.E., Layden, M.J., Von Ohlen, T., Doe, C.Q., and Eisen, J.S. (2004) Zebrafish and fly Nkx6 proteins have similar CNS expression patterns and regulate motoneuron formation. Development (Cambridge, England). 131(21):5221-5232.
Genes belonging to the Nkx, Gsh and Msx families are expressed in similar dorsovental spatial domains of the insect and vertebrate central nervous system (CNS), suggesting the bilaterian ancestor used this genetic program during CNS development. We have investigated the significance of these similar expression patterns by testing whether Nkx6 proteins expressed in ventral CNS of zebrafish and flies have similar functions. In zebrafish, Nkx6.1 is expressed in early-born primary and later-born secondary motoneurons. In the absence of Nkx6.1, there are fewer secondary motoneurons and supernumerary ventral interneurons, suggesting Nkx6.1 promotes motoneuron and suppresses interneuron formation. Overexpression of fish or fly Nkx6 is sufficient to generate supernumerary motoneurons in both zebrafish and flies. These results suggest that one ancestral function of Nkx6 proteins was to promote motoneuron development.