Cerebellar granule cell precursors (GCPs) and granule cells (GCs) represent good models to study neuronal development. Here, we report that the transcription factor myeloid ectopic viral integration site 1 homolog (Meis1) plays pivotal roles in the regulation of mouse GC development. We found that Meis1 is expressed in GC lineage cells and astrocytes in the cerebellum during development. Targeted disruption of the Meis1 gene specifically in theGClineage resulted in smaller cerebella with disorganized lobules. Knock-down/knock-out (KO) experiments for Meis1 and in vitro assays showed that Meis1 binds to an upstream sequence of Pax6 to enhance its transcription in GCPs/GCs and also suggested that the Meis1–Pax6 cascade regulates morphology of GCPs/GCs during development. In the conditional KO (cKO) cerebella, many Atoh1-positive GCPs were observed ectopically in the inner external granule layer (EGL) and a similar phenomenon was observed in cultured cerebellar slices treated with a bone morphogenic protein (BMP) inhibitor. Furthermore, expression of Smad proteins and Smad phosphorylation were severely reduced in the cKO cerebella and Meis1-knock-down GCPs cerebella. Reduction of phosphorylated Smad was also observed in cerebellar slices electroporated with a Pax6 knock-down vector. Because it is known that BMP signaling induces Atoh1 degradation in GCPs, these findings suggest that the Meis1–Pax6 pathway increases the expression of Smad proteins to upregulate BMP signaling, leading to degradation of Atoh1 in the inner EGL, which contributes to differentiation from GCPs to GCs. Therefore, this work reveals crucial functions of Meis1 in GC development and gives insights into the general understanding of the molecular machinery underlying neural differentiation from neural progenitors.
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