The floor plate is located at the ventral midline of the neural tube in vertebrates. Floor-plate development is severely impaired in zebrafish one- eyed pinhead (oep) mutants, oep encodes a membrane-bound protein with an epiblast growth factor (EGF) motif and functions autonomously in floor-plate precursors. To understand the cell behavior and cell-cell interaction during floor-plate development, the distribution and gene expression of wild-type and oep mutant cells in genetic mosaics were examined. When mutant shield cells were transplanted into a wild-type host, an ectopic neural tube with a floor plate was induced. However, the floor plate of the secondary axis was consistently devoid of mutant cells while its notochord was composed entirely of mutant cells. This indicates that oep shield cells adopt only a notochord fate in a wild-type environment. In reciprocal transplants (wild to oep), however, grafted shield cells frequently contributed to part of the floor- plate region of the secondary neural tube and expressed floor-plate markers. Careful examination of serial sections revealed that a mutant neural cell, when located next to the wild-type cells at the ventral midline, inhibited floor-plate differentiation of the adjacent wild-type cells. This inhibition was effective over an area only one- or two-cells wide along the anteroposterior axis. As the cells located at the ventral midline of the oep neural tube are thought to possess a neural character, similar to those located on either side of the floor plate in a wild-type embryo, this inhibition may play an important role during normal development in restricting the floor-plate region into the ventral-most midline by antagonizing homeogenetic signals from the floor-plate cells.
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