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Gene key to taste bud development identified

when we accidentally found the gene's role to be so pronounced in the developing tongue."

The particular strain of mice that Hogan and her colleagues use had been developed by Larysa Pevny, Ph.D., a geneticist and developmental neurobiologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who is co-author with Hogan of the journal report.

In engineering her new mouse strain for studying stem cells in the nervous system, Pevny combined the SOX2 gene with another gene, derived from jellyfish, and inserted the combination into the animals' chromosomes. She selected the added gene for its capacity to produce a special protein, called enhanced green fluorescent protein, that glows green when exposed to ultraviolet light.

"When we shine light on tissue from these animals, any cell that is expressing SOX2 will fluoresce, or light up," Pevny explained. "This allows us to directly visualize those areas where SOX2 is active. It is a very powerful tool."

In their work, Hogan and her colleagues use this fluorescence marker as a tool for tracking the activity of SOX2 in the esophagus, among other sites. As they worked with the mice, they noticed that specific areas on the tongue and in the back of the mouth lit up, in addition to areas in the esophagus. Further studies, Hogan said, confirmed that SOX2 was present in high amounts during the development of taste buds.

In another set of experiments, Hogan's team used another variant of the mouse strain made by Pevny in which the SOX2 gene was altered to produce only low levels of SOX2. In these animals, the stem cells in the tongue were not transformed into taste buds, she said. Instead, the cells became the "scaly" cells that cover the surface the tongue and help to direct food to the back of the mouth.

The new findings could lead to a better understanding of developmental disorders of the gut caused by mutations in the human SOX2 gene, Hogan said. For example, babi
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Contact: Richard Merritt
Merri006@mc.duke.edu
919-684-4148
Duke University Medical Center
30-Sep-2006


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