Tenascin and thrombospondin belong to the growing family of extracellular matrix glycoproteins believed to have an anti-adhesive function during development. Immunohistochemistry has been used to identify these proteins in the developing central nervous system, in the matrix surrounding peripheral neurons, and in connective tissue. The antibodies used in most of these studies, however, could not distinguish between different splice variants (tenascin) nor different genetic forms (thrombospondin). For this reason, we used the reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction to generate DNA probes that are specific to the transcripts of high M(r) tenascin and thrombospondin 2. These probes were then used for an in situ hybridization study to determine the cellular origins of specific tenascin and thrombospondin forms throughout the development of the chick. The mRNA encoding high M(r) tenascin was found associated with motile cells and in tissues undergoing dynamic modeling: migrating glia, epithelial glia used as a substratum for migrating neurons, the growing tips of lung buds, and during osteogenesis. In contrast, the mRNAs of low M(r) tenascin were concentrated in areas of cartilage deposition and chondrocyte proliferation. Thrombospondin 2 mRNA was not detected in the developing central nervous system at any time during development by in situ hybridization. In contrast, it was found in embryonic mesenchyme, perichondrium, epimysium, and endothelial cells. Thrombospondin 2 mRNA was detected in poly(A) RNA isolated from embryonic spinal cord and cerebellum by polymerase chain reaction, though it was not detected in poly(A) RNA from the avascular retina. Thus, thrombospondin 2 mRNA may be present in the developing brain at low levels in endothelial cells or blood cells. These data support the notion that tenascin splice variants have distinct roles during development, and that thrombospondin 2 is more likely to be playing a role associated with the morphogenesis of connective tissue than neuronal development.
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