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Development. 2000 Jul;127(14):3009-20.

(beta)-catenin mediates the specification of endoderm cells in ascidian embryos.

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Department of Zoology, Graduate School of Science, Kyoto University, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto 606-8502, Japan.


In the present study, we addressed the role of (beta)-catenin in the specification of embryonic cells of the ascidians Ciona intestinalis and C. savignyi and obtained the following results: (1) During cleavages, (beta)-catenin accumulated in the nuclei of vegetal blastomeres, suggesting that it plays a role in the specification of endoderm. (2) Mis- and/or overexpression of (beta)-catenin induced the development of an endoderm-specific alkaline phosphatase (AP) in presumptive notochord cells and epidermis cells without affecting differentiation of primary lineage muscle cells. (3) Downregulation of (beta)-catenin induced by the overexpression of cadherin resulted in the suppression of endoderm cell differentiation. This suppression was compensated for by the differentiation of extra epidermis cells. (4) Specification of notochord cells did not take place in the absence of endoderm differentiation. Both the overexpression of (beta)-catenin in presumptive notochord cells and the downregulation of (beta)-catenin in presumptive endoderm cells led to the suppression of Brachyury gene expression, resulting in the failure of notochord specification. These results suggest that the accumulation of (beta)-catenin in the nuclei of endoderm progenitor cells is the first step in the process of ascidian endoderm specification.

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