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BMPs direct sensory interneuron identity in the developing spinal cord using signal-specific not morphogenic activities.


The Bone Morphogenetic Protein (BMP) family reiteratively signals to direct disparate cellular fates throughout embryogenesis. In the developing dorsal spinal cord, multiple BMPs are required to specify sensory interneurons (INs). Previous studies suggested that the BMPs act as concentration-dependent morphogens to direct IN identity, analogous to the manner in which sonic hedgehog patterns the ventral spinal cord. However, it remains unresolved how multiple BMPs would cooperate to establish a unified morphogen gradient. Our studies support an alternative model: BMPs have signal-specific activities directing particular IN fates. Using chicken and mouse models, we show that the identity, not concentration, of the BMP ligand directs distinct dorsal identities. Individual BMPs promote progenitor patterning or neuronal differentiation by their activation of different type I BMP receptors and distinct modulations of the cell cycle. Together, this study shows that a 'mix and match' code of BMP signaling results in distinct classes of sensory INs.

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