Formation of highly unique and complex facial structures is controlled by genetic programs that are responsible for the precise coordination of three-dimensional tissue morphogenesis. However, the underlying mechanisms governing these processes remain poorly understood. We combined mouse genetic and genomic approaches to define the mechanisms underlying normal and defective midfacial morphogenesis. Conditional inactivation of the Wnt secretion protein Wls in Pax3-expressing lineage cells disrupted frontonasal primordial patterning, cell survival and directional outgrowth, resulting in altered facial structures, including midfacial hypoplasia and midline facial clefts. Single-cell RNA sequencing revealed unique transcriptomic atlases of mesenchymal subpopulations in the midfacial primordia, which are disrupted in the conditional Wls mutants. Differentially expressed genes and cis-regulatory sequence analyses uncovered that Wls modulates and integrates a core gene regulatory network, consisting of key midfacial regulatory transcription factors (including Msx1, Pax3 and Pax7) and their downstream targets (including Wnt, Shh, Tgfβ and retinoic acid signaling components), in a mesenchymal subpopulation of the medial nasal prominences that is responsible for midline facial formation and fusion. These results reveal fundamental mechanisms underlying mammalian midfacial morphogenesis and related defects at single-cell resolution.

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