The developmental increase in the level of NGF mRNA in mouse maxillary process/whisker pad is paralleled in vivo by the biochemical and morphological differentiation of whisker pad epidermis, i.e., changes in the keratin expression pattern and the appearance of hair follicles. In cultures of maxillary processes, however, depending on the age of explanted tissue, the increase in NGF mRNA levels either precedes or follows the appearance of epithelial differentiation markers. In addition, we found that prevention of epithelial differentiation by retinoic acid did not affect the increase in NGF mRNA levels. Only in explants from E11.5 embryos was the timing of NGF mRNA production comparable to that of the in vivo situation, whereas at earlier stages (E10/10.5) NGF mRNA levels increased slowly but never reached in vivo levels, even after extended culture periods. However, the amount of NGF mRNA in E10/10.5 maxillary processes was strongly increased in the presence of medium conditioned by E11.5 explants. This effect was not mimicked by the factors IL-1 beta and TGF-beta 1 known to induce NGF mRNA in other systems. It is concluded that the developmental increase in NGF mRNA levels in developing mouse whisker pad is not linked to epidermal differentiation. Interestingly, it is strongly stimulated by a soluble factor(s) produced within the tissue.

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