D De Pietri Tonelli, JN Pulvers, C Haffner, EP Murchison, GJ Hannon, WB Huttner
Neurogenesis during the development of the mammalian cerebral cortex involves a switch of neural stem and progenitor cells from proliferation to differentiation. To explore the possible role of microRNAs (miRNAs) in this process, we conditionally ablated Dicer in the developing mouse neocortex using Emx1-Cre, which is specifically expressed in the dorsal telencephalon as early as embryonic day (E) 9.5. Dicer ablation in neuroepithelial cells, which are the primary neural stem and progenitor cells, and in the neurons derived from them, was evident from E10.5 onwards, as ascertained by the depletion of the normally abundant miRNAs miR-9 and miR-124. Dicer ablation resulted in massive hypotrophy of the postnatal cortex and death of the mice shortly after weaning. Analysis of the cytoarchitecture of the Dicer-ablated cortex revealed a marked reduction in radial thickness starting at E13.5, and defective cortical layering postnatally. Whereas the former was due to neuronal apoptosis starting at E12.5, which was the earliest detectable phenotype, the latter reflected dramatic impairment of neuronal differentiation. Remarkably, the primary target cells of Dicer ablation, the neuroepithelial cells, and the neurogenic progenitors derived from them, were unaffected by miRNA depletion with regard to cell cycle progression, cell division, differentiation and viability during the early stage of neurogenesis, and only underwent apoptosis starting at E14.5. Our results support the emerging concept that progenitors are less dependent on miRNAs than their differentiated progeny, and raise interesting perspectives as to the expansion of somatic stem cells.