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Dev Biol. 2001 Sep 1;237(1):159-72.

VegT activation of Sox17 at the midblastula transition alters the response to nodal signals in the vegetal endoderm domain.

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Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104, USA.


In Xenopus, the prospective endoderm and mesoderm are localized to discrete, adjacent domains at the beginning of gastrulation, and this is made evident by the expression of Sox17 in vegetal blastomeres and Brachyury (Xbra) in marginal blastomeres. Here, we examine the regulation of Sox17alpha expression and the role of Sox17alpha in establishing the vegetal endodermal gene expression domain. Injection of specific inhibitors of VegT or Nodal resulted in a loss of Sox17alpha expression in the gastrula. However, the onset of Sox17alpha expression at the midblastula transition was dependent on VegT, but not on Nodal function, indicating that Sox17alpha expression is initiated by VegT and then maintained by Nodal signals. Consistent with these results, VegT, but not Xenopus Nodal-related-1 (Xnr1), can activate Sox17alpha expression at the midblastula stage in animal explants. In addition, VegT activates Sox17alpha in the presence of cycloheximide or a Nodal antagonist, suggesting that Sox17alpha is an immediate-early target of VegT in vegetal blastomeres. Given that Nodal signals are necessary and sufficient for both mesodermal and endodermal gene expression, we propose that VegT activation of Sox17alpha at the midblastula transition prevents mesodermal gene expression in response to Nodal signals, thus establishing the vegetal endodermal gene expression domain. Supporting this idea, Sox17alpha misexpression in the marginal zone inhibits the expression of multiple mesodermal genes. Furthermore, in animal explants, Sox17alpha prevents the induction of Xbra and MyoD, but not Sox17beta or Mixer, in response to Xnr1. Therefore, VegT activation of Sox17alpha plays an important role in establishing a region of endoderm-specific gene expression in vegetal blastomeres.

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