The b-HLH transcription factor Hes3 participates in neural plate border formation by interfering with Wnt/β-catenin signaling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Hes3 belongs to the Hes basic helix-loop-helix family of transcriptional repressors that play central roles in maintaining progenitor cells and regulating binary cell fate decisions in the embryo. During Xenopus laevis development, hes3 is expressed in the embryonic ectoderm in a horseshoe shape domain at the edge of the developing neural pate. Hes3 mis-expression at early neurula stage blocks neural crest (snai2, sox8, sox9 and sox10) and cranial placode (six1 and dmrta1) gene expression, and promotes neural plate (sox2 and sox3) fate. At tailbud stage, these embryos exhibited a massive up-regulation of both sox8 and sox10 expression, associated with an increase in genes important for melanocytes differentiation (mitf and dct). Using a hormone inducible construct we show that Hes3 does not induce a pigment cell differentiation program de novo, rather it maintains progenitor cells in an undifferentiated state, and as Hes3 expression subsides overtime these cells adopt a pigment cell fate. We demonstrate that mechanistically Hes3 mediates its activity through inhibition of Wnt/β-catenin signaling, a molecular pathway critical for neural crest specification and pigment cell lineage differentiation. We propose that Hes3 at the edge of the neural plate spatially restricts the response to mesoderm-derived Wnt ligands, thereby contributing to the establishment of sharp boundaries of gene expression at the neural plate border.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalDevelopmental Biology
Publication statusAccepted/In press - Jan 1 2018



  • Hes3
  • Melanocytes
  • Neural crest
  • Progenitors
  • Sox10
  • Xenopus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Cell Biology

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