Embryology of the CNS
In Drosophila, the proneural genes of the achaete-scute complex encode transcriptional activators that can commit cells to a neural fate. We have isolated cDNAs for two Xenopus achaete-scute homologs, ASH3a and ASH3b, which are expressed in a subset of central nervous system (CNS) neuroblasts during early neurogenesis. After expressing either ASH3 protein in developing Xenopus embryos, we find enlargement of the CNS at the expense of adjacent non-neural ectoderm. Analysis of molecular markers for neural, epidermal, and neural crest cells indicates that CNS expansion occurs as early as neural plate formation. ASH3-dependent CNS enlargement appears to require neural induction, as it does not occur in animal cap explants. Inhibition of DNA synthesis shows that additional CNS tissue does not depend on cell division--rather it reflects conversion of prospective neural crest and epidermal cells to a neural fate. The differentiation of the early forming primary neurons also seems to be prevented by ASH3 expression. This may be secondary to the observed activation of Xotch transcription by ASH3.