During vertebrate embryogenesis, the muscle-specific helix-loop-helix protein myogenin is expressed in muscle cell precursors in the developing somite myotome and limb bud before muscle fiber formation and is further upregulated during myogenesis. We show that cis-acting DNA sequences within the 5' flanking region of the mouse myogenin gene are sufficient to direct appropriate temporal, spatial, and tissue-specific transcription of myogenin during mouse embryogenesis. Myogenin-lacZ transgenes trace the fate of embryonic cells that activate myogenin transcription and suggest that myogenic precursor cells that migrate from the somite myotome to the limb bud are committed to a myogenic fate in the absence of myogenin transcription. Activation of a myogenin-lacZ transgene can occur in limb bud explants in culture, indicating that signals required for activation of myogenin transcription are intrinsic to the limb bud and independent of other parts of the embryo. These results reveal multiple populations of myogenic precursor cells during development and suggest the existence of regulators other than myogenic helix-loop-helix proteins that maintain cells in the early limb bud in the myogenic lineage.

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