As an approach toward understanding the molecular mechanisms of neuronal differentiation, we utilized DNA microarrays to elucidate global patterns of gene expression during pontocerebellar development. Through this analysis, we identified groups of genes specific to neuronal precursor cells, associated with axon outgrowth, and regulated in response to contact with synaptic target cells. In the cerebellum, we identified a phase of granule cell differentiation that is independent of interactions with other cerebellar cell types. Analysis of pontine gene expression revealed that distinct programs of gene expression, correlated with axon outgrowth and synapse formation, can be decoupled and are likely influenced by different cells in the cerebellar target environment. Our approach provides insight into the genetic programs underlying the differentiation of specific cell types in the pontocerebellar projection system.
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