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Development. 2003 May;130(9):1989-99.

LvTbx2/3: a T-box family transcription factor involved in formation of the oral/aboral axis of the sea urchin embryo.

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  • 1Development, Cell and Molecular Biology Group, Box 91000 LSRC, Duke University, Durham, NC 27710, USA.


T-box family transcription factors have been identified in many organisms and are frequently associated with patterning events during embryonic development. With an interest in the molecular basis of patterning in the sea urchin embryo, we identified several members of the T-box family in Lytechinus variegatus. Here, we report the cloning and characterization of an ortholog of the Tbx2/3 subfamily, LvTbx2/3. To characterize the spatial distribution of LvTbx2/3 protein throughout sea urchin embryogenesis, a polyclonal antiserum was generated. Nuclear localization of LvTbx2/3 initiated at the mesenchyme blastula stage and protein was present into the pluteus stage. Localization was asymmetric throughout this period and costaining with marker genes indicated that asymmetry was about the oral/aboral (O/A) axis. Asymmetric distribution of LvTbx2/3 was observed in the aboral territories of all three germ layers. In the skeletogenic mesoderm lineage, LvTbx2/3 expression was dynamic because expression appeared initially in all skeletogenic mesenchyme cells (PMCs) but, subsequently, became refined solely to the aboral ones during skeletogenesis. To determine if the aboral expression of LvTbx2/3 is linked between germ layers, and to place LvTbx2/3 in the sequence of events that specifies the O/A axis, the effects of a series of perturbations to O/A polarity on LvTbx2/3 expression in each germ layer were examined. Preventing the nuclear localization of beta-catenin, pharmacological disruption of the O/A axis with NiCl(2), overexpression of BMP2/4 and disruption of the extracellular matrix all blocked LvTbx2/3 expression in all germ layers. This indicates that expression of LvTbx2/3 in the aboral territories of each germ layer is a common aspect of O/A specification, downstream of the molecular events that specify the axis. Furthermore, blocking the nuclear localization of beta-catenin, overexpression of BMP2/4 and disruption of the extracellular matrix also prevented the oral (stomodael) expression of LvBrachyury (LvBrac) protein, indicating that the O/A axis is established by a complex series of events. Last, the function of LvTbx2/3 in the formation of the O/A axis was characterized by examining the phenotypic consequences of ectopic expression of LvTbx2/3 mRNA on embryonic development and the expression of marker genes that identify specific germ layers and tissues. Ectopic expression of LvTbx2/3 produced profound morphogenetic defects in derivatives of each germ layer with no apparent loss in specification events in those tissues. This indicates that LvTbx2/3 functions as a regulator of morphogenetic movements in the aboral compartments of the ectoderm, endoderm and mesoderm.

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