The isthmic organiser located at the midbrain-hindbrain boundary (MHB) is the crucial developmental signalling centre responsible
for patterning mesencephalic and metencephalic regions of the vertebrate brain. Formation and maintenance of the MHB is characterised
by a hierarchical program of gene expression initiated by fibroblast growth factor 8 (Fgf8), coupled with cellular morphogenesis, culminating in the formation of the tectal-isthmo-cerebellar structures. Here, we
show in zebrafish that one orthologue of the transcription factor grainy head-like 2 (Grhl2), zebrafish grhl2b plays a central role in both MHB maintenance and folding by regulating two distinct, non-linear pathways. Loss of grhl2b expression induces neural apoptosis and extinction of MHB markers, which are rescued by re-expression of engrailed 2a (eng2a), an evolutionarily conserved target of the Grhl family. Co-injection of sub-phenotypic doses of grhl2b and eng2a morpholinos reproduces the apoptosis and MHB marker loss, but fails to substantially disrupt formation of the isthmic constriction.
By contrast, a novel direct grhl2b target, spec1, identified by phylogenetic analysis and confirmed by ChIP, functionally cooperates with grhl2b to induce MHB morphogenesis, but plays no role in apoptosis or maintenance of MHB markers. Collectively, these data show
that MHB maintenance and morphogenesis are dissociable events regulated by grhl2b through diverse transcriptional targets.