The mechanisms that coordinate and balance a complex network of opposing regulators to control Schwann cell (SC) differentiation remain elusive. Here we demonstrate that zinc-finger E-box-binding homeobox 2 (Zeb2, also called Sip1) transcription factor is a critical intrinsic timer that controls the onset of SC differentiation by recruiting histone deacetylases HDAC 1 and 2 (HDAC1/2) and nucleosome remodeling and deacetylase complex (NuRD) co-repressor complexes in mice. Zeb2 deletion arrests SCs at an undifferentiated state during peripheral nerve development and inhibits remyelination after injury. Zeb2 antagonizes inhibitory effectors including Notch and Sox2. Importantly, genome-wide transcriptome analysis reveals a Zeb2 target gene encoding the Notch effector Hey2 as a potent inhibitor for Schwann cell differentiation. Strikingly, a genetic Zeb2 variant associated with Mowat-Wilson syndrome disrupts the interaction with HDAC1/2-NuRD and abolishes Zeb2 activity for SC differentiation. Therefore, Zeb2 controls SC maturation by recruiting HDAC1/2-NuRD complexes and inhibiting a Notch-Hey2 signaling axis, pointing to the critical role of HDAC1/2-NuRD activity in peripheral neuropathies caused by ZEB2 mutations.
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