Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor's Name

Lidia Kos

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

James Grichnik

Third Advisor's Name

Robert Lickliter

Fourth Advisor's Name

Fernando G. Noriega

Fifth Advisor's Name

M. Alejandro Barbieri


Ets1, Sox10, melanocyte development, genetic interactions, neural crest, mouse

Date of Defense



Melanocytes, pigment-producing cells, derive from the neural crest (NC), a population of pluripotent cells that arise from the dorsal aspect of the neural tube during embryogenesis. Many genes required for melanocyte development were identified using mouse pigmentation mutants. The deletion of the transcription factor Ets1 in mice results in hypopigmentation; nevertheless, the function of Ets1 in melanocyte development is unknown. The goal of the present study was to establish the temporal requirement and role of Ets1 in murine melanocyte development. In the mouse, Ets1 is widely expressed in developing organs and tissues, including the NC. In the chick cranial NC, Ets1 is required for the expression of Sox10, a transcription factor critical for the development of melanocytes, enteric ganglia, and other NC derivatives.

Using a combination of immunofluorescence and cell survival assays Ets1 was found to be required between embryonic days 10 and 11, when it regulates NC cell and melanocyte precursor (melanoblast) survival. Given the requirement of Ets1 for Sox10 expression in the chick cranial NC, a potential interaction between these genes was investigated. Using genetic crosses, a synergistic genetic interaction between Ets1 and Sox10 in melanocyte development was found. Since Sox10 is essential for enteric ganglia formation, the importance of Ets1 on gut innervation was also examined. In mice, Ets1 deletion led to decreased gut innervation, which was exacerbated by Sox10 heterozygosity.

At the molecular level, Ets1 was found to activate a Sox10 enhancer critical for Sox10 expression in melanoblasts. Furthermore, mutating Ets1 at a site I characterized in the spontaneous variable spotting mouse pigmentation mutant, led to a 2-fold decrease in enhancer activation. Overexpression and knockdown of Ets1 did not affect Sox10 expression; nonetheless, Ets1 knockdown led to a 6-fold upregulation of the transcription factor Sox9, a gene required for melanocyte and chondrocyte development, but which impairs melanocyte development when its expression is prolonged. Together, these results suggest that Ets1 is required early during melanocyte development for NC cell and melanoblast survival, possibly acting upstream of Sox10. The transcription factor Ets1 may also act indirectly in melanocyte fate specification by repressing Sox9 expression, and consequently cartilage fate.



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