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J Cell Biol. 1997 Mar 10;136(5):1123-36.

Establishment of the dorso-ventral axis in Xenopus embryos is presaged by early asymmetries in beta-catenin that are modulated by the Wnt signaling pathway.

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  • 1Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, University of California at Berkeley, 94720, USA.


Eggs of Xenopus laevis undergo a postfertilization cortical rotation that specifies the position of the dorso-ventral axis and activates a transplantable dorsal-determining activity in dorsal blastomeres by the 32-cell stage. There have heretofore been no reported dorso-ventral asymmetries in endogenous signaling proteins that may be involved in this dorsal-determining activity during early cleavage stages. We focused on beta-catenin as a candidate for an asymmetrically localized dorsal-determining factor since it is both necessary and sufficient for dorsal axis formation. We report that beta-catenin displays greater cytoplasmic accumulation on the future dorsal side of the Xenopus embryo by the two-cell stage. This asymmetry persists and increases through early cleavage stages, with beta-catenin accumulating in dorsal but not ventral nuclei by the 16- to 32-cell stages. We then investigated which potential signaling factors and pathways are capable of modulating the steady-state levels of endogenous beta-catenin. Steady-state levels and nuclear accumulation of beta-catenin increased in response to ectopic Xenopus Wnt-8 (Xwnt-8) and to the inhibition of glycogen synthase kinase-3, whereas neither Xwnt-5A, BVg1, nor noggin increased beta-catenin levels before the mid-blastula stage. As greater levels and nuclear accumulation of beta-catenin on the future dorsal side of the embryo correlate with the induction of specific dorsal genes, our data suggest that early asymmetries in beta-catenin presage and may specify dorso-ventral differences in gene expression and cell fate. Our data further support the hypothesis that these dorso-ventral differences in beta-catenin arise in response to the postfertilization activation of a signaling pathway that involves Xenopus glycogen synthase kinase-3.

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