Two ETS transcription factors of the Pea3 subfamily are induced in subpopulations of dorsal root ganglion (DRG) sensory and spinal motor neurons by target-derived factors. Their expression controls late aspects of neuronal differentiation such as target invasion and branching. Here, we show that the late onset of ETS gene expression is an essential requirement for normal sensory neuron differentiation. We provide genetic evidence in the mouse that precocious ETS expression in DRG sensory neurons perturbs axonal projections, the acquisition of terminal differentiation markers, and their dependence on neurotrophic support. Together, our findings indicate that DRG sensory neurons exhibit a temporal developmental switch that can be revealed by distinct responses to ETS transcription factor signaling at sequential steps of neuronal maturation.
By expressing ETS transcription factors at different developmental stages of dorsal root ganglion development, the authors show that late onset of ETS expression is essential for normal sensory neuron differentiation