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Development. 1991 May;112(1):177-88.

Changes in neural and lens competence in Xenopus ectoderm: evidence for an autonomous developmental timer.

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  • 1Department of Biology, University of Virginia, Charlottesville 22901.


The ability of a tissue to respond to induction, termed its competence, is often critical in determining both the timing of inductive interactions and the extent of induced tissue. We have examined the lens-forming competence of Xenopus embryonic ectoderm by transplanting it into the presumptive lens region of open neural plate stage embryos. We find that early gastrula ectoderm has little lens-forming competence, but instead forms neural tissue, despite its location outside the neural plate; we believe that the transplants are being neuralized by a signal originating in the host neural plate. This neural competence is not localized to a particular region within the ectoderm since both dorsal and ventral portions of early gastrula ectoderm show the same response. As ectoderm is taken from gastrulae of increasing age, its neural competence is gradually lost, while lens competence appears and then rapidly disappears during later gastrula stages. To determine whether these developmental changes in competence result from tissue interactions during gastrulation, or are due to autonomous changes within the ectoderm itself, ectoderm was removed from early gastrulae and cultured for various periods of time before transplantation. The loss of neural competence, and the gain and loss of lens competence, all occur in ectoderm cultured in vitro with approximately the same time course as seen in ectoderm in vitro. Thus, at least from the beginning of gastrulation onwards, changes in competence occur autonomously within ectoderm. We propose that there is a developmental timing mechanism in embryonic ectoderm that specifies a sequence of competences solely on the basis of the age of the ectoderm.

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