In the vertebrate peripheral nervous system, the proneural genes neurogenin 1 and neurogenin 2 (Ngn1 and Ngn2), and Mash1 are required for sensory and autonomic neurogenesis, respectively. In cultures of neural tube-derived, primitive PNS progenitors NGNs promote expression of sensory markers and MASH1 that of autonomic markers. These effects do not simply reflect enhanced neuronal differentiation, suggesting that both bHLH factors also specify neuronal identity like their Drosophila counterparts. At high concentrations of BMP2 or in neural crest stem cells (NCSCs), however, NGNs like MASH1 promote only autonomic marker expression. These data suggest that that the identity specification function of NGNs is more sensitive to context than is that of MASH1. In NCSCs, MASH1 is more sensitive to Notch-mediated inhibition of neurogenesis and cell cycle arrest, than are the NGNs. Thus, the two proneural genes differ in other functional properties besides the neuron subtype identities they can promote. These properties may explain cellular differences between MASH1- and NGN-dependent lineages in the timing of neuronal differentiation and cell cycle exit.
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