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Development. 2012 May;139(9):1662-9. doi: 10.1242/dev.075051. Epub 2012 Mar 21.

Axial patterning interactions in the sea urchin embryo: suppression of nodal by Wnt1 signaling.

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  • 1National Institute for Dental and Craniofacial Research, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20891, USA.


Wnt and Nodal signaling pathways are required for initial patterning of cell fates along anterior-posterior (AP) and dorsal-ventral (DV) axes, respectively, of sea urchin embryos during cleavage and early blastula stages. These mechanisms are connected because expression of nodal depends on early Wnt/β-catenin signaling. Here, we show that an important subsequent function of Wnt signaling is to control the shape of the nodal expression domain and maintain correct specification of different cell types along the axes of the embryo. In the absence of Wnt1, the posterior-ventral region of the embryo is severely altered during early gastrulation. Strikingly, at this time, nodal and its downstream target genes gsc and bra are expressed ectopically, extending posteriorly to the blastopore. They override the initial specification of posterior-ventral ectoderm and endoderm fates, eliminating the ventral contribution to the gut and displacing the ciliary band dorsally towards, and occasionally beyond, the blastopore. Consequently, in Wnt1 morphants, the blastopore is located at the border of the re-specified posterior-ventral oral ectoderm and by larval stages it is in the same plane near the stomodeum on the ventral side. In normal embryos, a Nodal-dependent process downregulates wnt1 expression in dorsal posterior cells during early gastrulation, focusing Wnt1 signaling to the posterior-ventral region where it suppresses nodal expression. These subsequent interactions between Wnt and Nodal signaling are thus mutually antagonistic, each limiting the range of the other's activity, in order to maintain and stabilize the body plan initially established by those same signaling pathways in the early embryo.

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