During neocortical development, tight regulation of neurogenesis-to-astrogenesis switching of neural precursor cells (NPCs) is critical to generate a balanced number of each neural cell type for proper brain functions. Accumulating evidence indicates that a complex array of epigenetic modifications and the availability of extracellular factors control the timing of neuronal and astrocytic differentiation. However, our understanding of NPC fate regulation is still far from complete. Bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs) are renowned as cytokines that induce astrogenesis of gliogenic late-gestational NPCs. They also promote neurogenesis of mid-gestational NPCs, although the underlying mechanisms remain elusive. By performing multiple genome-wide analyses, we demonstrate that Smads, transcription factors that act downstream from BMP signaling, target dramatically different genomic regions in neurogenic and gliogenic NPCs. We found that histone H3K27 trimethylation and DNA methylation around Smad-binding sites change rapidly as gestation proceeds, strongly associated with the alteration of accessibility of Smads to their target binding sites. Furthermore, we identified two lineage-specific Smad-interacting partners-Sox11 for neurogenic and Sox8 for astrocytic differentiation-that further ensure Smad-regulated fate-specific gene induction. Our findings illuminate an exquisite regulation of NPC property change mediated by the interplay between cell-extrinsic cues and -intrinsic epigenetic programs during cortical development.
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