A developmental transcriptomic analysis of Pax1 and Pax9 in embryonic intervertebral disc development
The notochord has major roles in vertebral column formation: indirectly by inducing sclerotome cell differentiation; and directly by forming the nucleus pulposus of intervertebral discs. Sox5 and Sox6 encode Sry-related HMG box transcription factors that act redundantly to promote chondroblast differentiation in all cartilages of the mouse embryo. We show that Sox5 and Sox6 are expressed in the notochord cell lineage and required for notochord late development. In Sox5(-/-)/Sox6(-/-) embryos, the notochord formed a typical rod-like structure. It fulfilled its inductive functions, as indicated by expression of sonic hedgehog and sclerotome specification. However, the notochord failed to become surrounded with an extracellular matrix sheath. This phenotype was associated with a downregulation of extracellular matrix genes, including the genes for collagen 2, aggrecan and perlecan in both notochord cells and surrounding chondrocytic cells of presumptive inner annuli and vertebral bodies. The mutant notochord then underwent an aberrant, fatal dismantling after sclerotome cell migration. Its cells became removed first from intervertebral spaces and then from vertebral bodies, and it progressively underwent apoptosis. Meanwhile, the development of inner annuli and vertebral bodies was dramatically impaired. Consequently, the vertebral column of Sox5(-/-)/Sox6(-/-) fetuses consisted of a very deficient cartilage and was devoid of nuclei pulposi. In Sox5(-/-)/Sox6(+/-) and more severely in Sox5(+/-)/Sox6(-/-) embryos, the notochord sheath was thinner, but cells survived. By birth, nuclei pulposi were rudimentary, and its cells poorly swelled and still expressing sonic hedgehog. Hence, Sox5 and Sox6 are required for notochord extracellular matrix sheath formation, notochord cell survival and formation of nuclei pulposi. Through these roles and essential roles in cartilage formation, they are central transcriptional regulators of vertebral column development.