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Development. 1992 Nov;116(3):671-85.

Commitment along the dorsoventral axis of the sea urchin embryo is altered in response to NiCl2.

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  • 1Department of Zoology, University of Wisconsin, Madison 53706.


Few treatments are known that perturb the dorsoventral axis of the sea urchin embryo. We report here that the dorsoventral polarity of the sea urchin embryo can be disrupted by treatment of embryos with NiCl2. Lytechinus variegatus embryos treated with 0.5 mM NiCl2 from fertilization until the early gastrula stage appear morphologically normal until the midgastrula stage, when they fail to acquire the overt dorsoventral polarity characteristic of untreated siblings. The ectoderm of normal embryos possesses two ventrolateral thickenings just above the vegetal plate region. In nickel-treated embryos, these become expanded as a circumferential belt around the vegetal plate. The ectoderm just ventral to the animal pole normally invaginates to form a stomodeum, which then fuses with the tip of the archenteron to produce the mouth. In nickel-treated embryos, the stomodeal invagination is expanded to become a circumferential constriction, and it eventually pinches off as the tip of the archenteron fuses with it to produce a mouth. Primary mesenchyme cells form a ring in the lateral ectoderm, but as many as a dozen spicule rudiments can form in a radial pattern. Dorsoventral differentiation of ectodermal tissues is profoundly perturbed: nickel-treated embryos underexpress transcripts of the dorsal (aboral) gene LvS1, they overexpress the ventral (oral) ectodermal gene product, EctoV, and the ciliated band is shifted to the vegetal margin of the embryo. Although some dorsoventral abnormalities are observed, animal-vegetal differentiation of the archenteron and associated structures seems largely normal, based on the localization of region-specific gene products. Gross differentiation of primary mesenchyme cells seems unaffected, since nickel-treated embryos possess the normal number of these cells. Furthermore, when all primary mesenchyme cells are removed from nickel-treated embryos, some secondary mesenchyme cells undergo the process of "conversion" (Ettensohn, C. A. and McClay, D. R. (1988) Dev. Biol. 125, 396-409), migrating to sites where the larval skeleton would ordinarily form and subsequently producing spicule rudiments. However, the skeletal pattern formed by the converted cells is completely radialized. Our data suggest that a major effect of NiCl2 is to alter commitment of ectodermal cells along the dorsoventral axis. Among the consequences appears to be a disruption of pattern formation by mesenchyme cells.

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