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Dev Biol. 2003 Sep 15;261(2):412-25.

Tight regulation of SpSoxB factors is required for patterning and morphogenesis in sea urchin embryos.

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  • 1Department of Biology, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY 14627, USA.


Previous studies in sea urchin embryos have demonstrated that nuclearization of beta-catenin is essential for initial steps in the specification of endoderm and mesenchyme, which are derived from vegetal blastomeres. This process begins at the 4th and extends through the 9th cleavage stage, an interval in which the SpSoxB1 transcription regulator is downregulated by beta-catenin-dependent gene products that include the transcription repressor SpKrl. These observations raise the possibility that SpSoxB1 removal is required to allow vegetal development to proceed. Here we show that elevated and ectopic expression of this factor suppresses differentiation of all vegetal cell types, a phenotype that is very similar to that caused by the suppression of beta-catenin nuclear function by cadherin overexpression. Suppression of vegetal fates involves interference at the protein-protein level because a mutation of SpSoxB1 that prevents its binding to DNA does not significantly reduce this activity. Reduction in SpSoxB1 level results in elevated TCF/Lef-beta-catenin-dependent expression of a luciferase reporter gene in vivo, indicating that in the normal embryo this protein suppresses the primary vegetal signaling mechanism that is required for specification of mesenchyme and endoderm. Surprisingly, normal expression of SpSoxB1 is required for gastrulation and endoderm differentiation, as shown by both morpholino-mediated translational interference and expression of a dominant negative protein. Similar gain-of-function and loss-of-function assays of a closely related factor, SpSoxB2, demonstrate that it, too, is required for gastrulation and that its overexpression can suppress vegetal development. However, significant phenotypic differences are apparent in the two perturbations, indicating that SpSoxB1 and SpSoxB2 have at least some distinct developmental functions. The results of all these studies support a model in which the concentration of SpSoxB factors must be tightly regulated along the animal-vegetal axis of the early sea urchin embryo to allow beta-catenin-dependent specification of endoderm and mesenchyme cell fates as well as to activate target genes required for gastrulation.

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