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Development. 1993 Jul;118(3):665-90.

Later embryogenesis: regulatory circuitry in morphogenetic fields.

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  • Division of Biology, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena 91125.


The subject of this review is the nature of regulatory processes underlying the spatial subdivision of morphogenetic regions in later embryogenesis. I have applied a non-classical definition of morphogenetic field, the progenitor field, which is a region of an embryo composed of cells whose progeny will constitute a given morphological structure. An important feature of such fields is that they have sharp spatial boundaries, across which lie cells whose progeny will express different fates. Two examples of the embryonic specification and development of such fields are considered. These are the formation of the archenteron in the sea urchin embryo and the formation of dorsal axial mesoderm in the Xenopus embryo. From these and a number of additional examples, from vertebrate, Drosophila, Caenorhabditis elegans and sea urchin embryos, it is concluded that the initial formation of the boundaries of morphogenetic progenitor fields depends on both positive and negative transcription control functions. Specification of morphogenetic progenitor fields, organization of the boundaries and their subsequent regionalization or subdivision are mediated by intercellular signaling. Genes encoding regionally expressed transcription factors that are activated in response to intercell signaling, and that in turn mediate signaling changes downstream, appear as fundamental regulatory circuit elements. Such [signal-->transcription factor gene-->signal] circuit elements appear to be utilized, often repetitively, in many different morphogenetic processes.

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