Zhimin Lao

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York City, NY, United States

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Publications (8)64.82 Total impact

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    ABSTRACT: Mosaic mutant analysis, the study of cellular defects in scattered mutant cells in a wild-type environment, is a powerful approach for identifying critical functions of genes and has been applied extensively to invertebrate model organisms. A highly versatile technique has been developed in mouse: MASTR (mosaic mutant analysis with spatial and temporal control of recombination), which utilizes the increasing number of floxed alleles and simultaneously combines conditional gene mutagenesis and cell marking for fate analysis. A targeted allele (R26(MASTR)) was engineered; the allele expresses a GFPcre fusion protein following FLP-mediated recombination, which serves the dual function of deleting floxed alleles and marking mutant cells with GFP. Within 24 hr of tamoxifen administration to R26(MASTR) mice carrying an inducible FlpoER transgene and a floxed allele, nearly all GFP-expressing cells have a mutant allele. The fate of single cells lacking FGF8 or SHH signaling in the developing hindbrain was analyzed using MASTR, and it was revealed that there is only a short time window when neural progenitors require FGFR1 for viability and that granule cell precursors differentiate rapidly when SMO is lost. MASTR is a powerful tool that provides cell-type-specific (spatial) and temporal marking of mosaic mutant cells and is broadly applicable to developmental, cancer, and adult stem cell studies.
    Cell Reports 08/2012; 2(2):386-96. · 7.21 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Anterior-posterior (AP) limb patterning is directed by sonic hedgehog (SHH) signaling from the posteriorly located zone of polarizing activity (ZPA). GLI3 and GLI2 are the transcriptional mediators generally utilized in SHH signaling, and each can function as an activator (A) and repressor (R). Although GLI3R has been suggested to be the primary effector of SHH signaling during limb AP patterning, a role for GLI3A or GLI2 has not been fully ruled out, nor has it been determined whether Gli3 plays distinct roles in limb development at different stages. By conditionally removing Gli3 in the limb at multiple different time points, we uncovered four Gli3-mediated functions in limb development that occur at distinct but partially over-lapping time windows: AP patterning of the proximal limb, AP patterning of the distal limb, regulation of digit number and bone differentiation. Furthermore, by removing Gli2 in Gli3 temporal conditional knock-outs, we uncovered an essential role for Gli2 in providing the remaining posterior limb patterning seen in Gli3 single mutants. To test whether GLIAs or GLIRs regulate different aspects of AP limb patterning and/or digit number, we utilized a knock-in allele in which GLI1, which functions solely as an activator, is expressed in place of the bifunctional GLI2 protein. Interestingly, we found that GLIAs contribute to AP patterning specifically in the posterior limb, whereas GLIRs predominantly regulate anterior patterning and digit number. Since GLI3 is a more effective repressor, our results explain why GLI3 is required only for anterior limb patterning and why GLI2 can compensate for GLI3A in posterior limb patterning. Taken together, our data suggest that establishment of a complete range of AP positional identities in the limb requires integration of the spatial distribution, timing, and dosage of GLI2 and GLI3 activators and repressors.
    Developmental Biology 07/2012; 370(1):110-24. · 3.87 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Underlying the seemingly uniform cellular composition of the adult mammalian cerebellum (Cb) are striking parasagittal stripes of gene expression along the medial-lateral (ML) axis that are organized with respect to the lobules that divide the Cb along the anterior-posterior (AP) axis. Although there is a clear correlation between the organization of gene expression stripes and Cb activity patterns, little is known about the genetic pathways that determine the intrinsic stripe molecular code. Here we establish that ML molecular code patterning is highly dependent on two homeobox transcription factors, Engrailed1 (En1) and En2, both of which are also required for patterning the lobules. Gene expression analysis of an allelic series of En1/2 mutant mice that have an intact Purkinje cell layer revealed severe patterning defects using three known components of the ML molecular code and a new marker of Hsp25 negative stripes (Neurofilament heavy chain, Nfh). Importantly, the complementary expression of ZebrinII/PhospholipaseC beta4 and Hsp25/Nfh changes in unison in each mutant. Furthermore, each En gene has unique as well as overlapping functions in patterning the ML molecular code and each En protein has dominant functions in different AP domains (subsets of lobules). Remarkably, in En1/2 mutants with almost normal foliation, ML molecular code patterning is severely disrupted. Thus, independent mechanisms that use En1/2 must pattern foliation and spatial gene expression separately. Our studies reveal that En1/2 are fundamental components of the genetic pathways that pattern the two intersecting coordinate systems of the Cb, morphological divisions and the molecular code.
    Journal of Neuroscience 12/2008; 28(47):12150-62. · 6.91 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The genetic pathways that partition the developing nervous system into functional systems are largely unknown. The engrailed (En) homeobox transcription factors are candidate regulators of this process in the dorsal midbrain (tectum) and anterior hindbrain (cerebellum). En1 mutants lack most of the tectum and cerebellum and die at birth, whereas En2 mutants are viable with a smaller cerebellum and foliation defects. Our previous studies indicated that the difference in phenotypes is due to the earlier expression of En1 as compared with En2, rather than differences in protein function, since knock-in mice expressing En2 in place of En1 have a normal brain. Here, we uncovered a wider spectrum of functions for the En genes by generating a series of En mutant mice. First, using a conditional allele we demonstrate that En1 is required for cerebellum development only before embryonic day 9, but plays a sustained role in forming the tectum. Second, by removing the endogenous En2 gene in the background of En1 knock-in alleles, we show that Drosophila en is not sufficient to sustain midbrain and cerebellum development in the absence of En2, whereas En2 is more potent than En1 in cerebellum development. Third, based on a differential sensitivity to the dose of En1/2, our studies reveal a genetic subdivision of the tectum into its two functional systems and the medial cerebellum into four regions that have distinct circuitry and molecular coding. Our study suggests that an ;engrailed code' is integral to partitioning the tectum and cerebellum into functional domains.
    Development 07/2007; 134(12):2325-35. · 6.21 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Two of the four human FGF8 splice isoforms, FGF8a and FGF8b, are expressed in the mid-hindbrain region during development. Although the only difference between these isoforms is the presence of an additional 11 amino acids at the N terminus of FGF8b, these isoforms possess remarkably different abilities to pattern the midbrain and anterior hindbrain. To reveal the structural basis by which alternative splicing modulates the organizing activity of FGF8, we solved the crystal structure of FGF8b in complex with the "c" splice isoform of FGF receptor 2 (FGFR2c). Using surface plasmon resonance (SPR), we also characterized the receptor-binding specificity of FGF8a and FGF8b, the "b" isoform of FGF17 (FGF17b), and FGF18. The FGF8b-FGFR2c structure shows that alternative splicing permits a single additional contact between phenylalanine 32 (F32) of FGF8b and a hydrophobic groove within Ig domain 3 of the receptor that is also present in FGFR1c, FGFR3c, and FGFR4. Consistent with the structure, mutation of F32 to alanine reduces the affinity of FGF8b toward all these receptors to levels characteristic of FGF8a. More importantly, analysis of the mid-hindbrain patterning ability of the FGF8b(F32A) mutant in chick embryos and murine midbrain explants shows that this mutation functionally converts FGF8b to FGF8a. Moreover, our data suggest that the intermediate receptor-binding affinities of FGF17b and FGF18, relative to FGF8a and FGF8b, also account for the distinct patterning abilities of these two ligands. We also show that the mode of FGF8 receptor-binding specificity is distinct from that of other FGFs and provide the first biochemical evidence for a physiological FGF8b-FGFR1c interaction during mid-hindbrain development. Consistent with the indispensable role of FGF8 in embryonic development, we show that the FGF8 mode of receptor binding appeared as early as in nematodes and has been preserved throughout evolution.
    Genes & Development 02/2006; 20(2):185-98. · 12.44 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The mouse homeobox gene Gbx2 is first expressed throughout the posterior region of the embryo during gastrulation, and becomes restricted to rhombomeres 1-3 (r1-3) by embryonic day 8.5 (E8.5). Previous studies have shown that r1-3 do not develop in Gbx2 mutants and that there is an early caudal expansion of the midbrain gene Otx2 to the anterior border of r4. Furthermore, expression of Wnt1 and Fgf8, two crucial components of the isthmic organizer, is no longer segregated to adjacent domains in Gbx2 mutants. In this study, we extend the phenotypic analysis of Gbx2 mutants by showing that Gbx2 is not only required for development of r1-3, but also for normal gene expression in r4-6. To determine whether Gbx2 can alter hindbrain development, we generated Hoxb1-Gbx2 (HG) transgenic mice in which Gbx2 is ectopically expressed in r4. We show that Gbx2 is not sufficient to induce r1-3 development in r4. To test whether an Otx2/Gbx2 interface can induce r1-3 development, we introduced the HG transgene onto a Gbx2-null mutant background and recreated a new Otx2/Gbx2 border in the anterior hindbrain. Development of r3, but not r1 and r2, is rescued in Gbx2-/-; HG embryos. In addition, the normal spatial relationship of Wnt1 and Fgf8 is established at the new Otx2/Gbx2 border, demonstrating that an interaction between Otx2 and Gbx2 is sufficient to produce the normal pattern of Wnt1 and Fgf8 expression. However, the expression domains of Fgf8 and Spry1, a downstream target of Fgf8, are greatly reduced in mid/hindbrain junction area of Gbx2-/-; HG embryos and the posterior midbrain is truncated because of abnormal cell death. Interestingly, we show that increased cell death and a partial loss of the midbrain are associated with increased expression of Fgf8 and Spry1 in Gbx2 conditional mutants that lack Gbx2 in r1 after E9.0. These results together suggest that cell survival in the posterior midbrain is positively or negatively regulated by Fgf8, depending on Fgf8 expression level. Our studies provide new insights into the regulatory interactions that maintain isthmic organizer gene expression and the consequences of altered levels of organizer gene expression on cell survival.
    Development 05/2005; 132(8):1971-81. · 6.21 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Early patterning of the vertebrate midbrain and cerebellum is regulated by a mid/hindbrain organizer that produces three fibroblast growth factors (FGF8, FGF17 and FGF18). The mechanism by which each FGF contributes to patterning the midbrain, and induces a cerebellum in rhombomere 1 (r1) is not clear. We and others have found that FGF8b can transform the midbrain into a cerebellum fate, whereas FGF8a can promote midbrain development. In this study we used a chick electroporation assay and in vitro mouse brain explant experiments to compare the activity of FGF17b and FGF18 to FGF8a and FGF8b. First, FGF8b is the only protein that can induce the r1 gene Gbx2 and strongly activate the pathway inhibitors Spry1/2, as well as repress the midbrain gene Otx2. Consistent with previous studies that indicated high level FGF signaling is required to induce these gene expression changes, electroporation of activated FGFRs produce similar gene expression changes to FGF8b. Second, FGF8b extends the organizer along the junction between the induced Gbx2 domain and the remaining Otx2 region in the midbrain, correlating with cerebellum development. By contrast, FGF17b and FGF18 mimic FGF8a by causing expansion of the midbrain and upregulating midbrain gene expression. This result is consistent with Fgf17 and Fgf18 being expressed in the midbrain and not just in r1 as Fgf8 is. Third, analysis of gene expression in mouse brain explants with beads soaked in FGF8b or FGF17b showed that the distinct activities of FGF17b and FGF8b are not due to differences in the amount of FGF17b protein produced in vivo. Finally, brain explants were used to define a positive feedback loop involving FGF8b mediated upregulation of Fgf18, and two negative feedback loops that include repression of Fgfr2/3 and direct induction of Spry1/2. As Fgf17 and Fgf18 are co-expressed with Fgf8 in many tissues, our studies have broad implications for how these FGFs differentially control development.
    Development 01/2004; 130(25):6175-85. · 6.21 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: We examined whether Gbx2 is required after embryonic day 9 (E9) to repress Otx2 in the cerebellar anlage and position the midbrain/hindbrain organizer. In contrast to Gbx2 null mutants, mice lacking Gbx2 in rhombomere 1 (r1) after E9 (Gbx2-CKO) are viable and develop a cerebellum. A Gbx2-independent pathway can repress Otx2 in r1 after E9. Mid/hindbrain organizer gene expression, however, continues to be dependent on Gbx2. We found that Fgf8 expression normally correlates with the isthmus where cells undergo low proliferation and that in Gbx2-CKO mutants this domain is expanded. We propose that Fgf8 permits lateral cerebellar development through repression of Otx2 and also suppresses medial cerebellar growth in Gbx2-CKO embryos. Our work has uncovered distinct requirements for Gbx2 during cerebellum formation and provided a model for how a transcription factor can play multiple roles during development.
    Neuron 10/2002; 36(1):31-43. · 15.77 Impact Factor