Tom Sargent, who heads the Section on Vertebrate Development, and his colleagues study the development of the cranial neural crest (NC) in zebrafish. Previous contributions from this laboratory include describing the central role of the transcription factor TFAP2a in NC induction and the function of the homeodomain protein DLX3 in NC/neural/epidermal boundary formation in Xenopus. The lab employs a transgenic approach to express regulatory molecules in the cranial NC cells of live fish embryos, including lines expressing dominant negative, inducible versions of Dlx factors, driven specifically in the NC by a sox10 promoter element. The lines are used to investigate the function of Dlx genes in zebrafish craniofacial development and to decode the gene-regulatory networks that control this process. A novel assay system based on transient expression of synthetic mRNAs in zebrafish embryos, followed by RNAseq analysis is being developed as a tool for discovering downstream targets of transcription factors or other proteins of biomedical interest.

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