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Mech Dev. 2005 Mar;122(3):365-439. Epub 2004 Dec 30.

An atlas of differential gene expression during early Xenopus embryogenesis.

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Division of Molecular Embryology, Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, Im Neuenheimer Feld 280, D-69120 Heidelberg, Germany.


We have carried out a large-scale, semi-automated whole-mount in situ hybridization screen of 8369 cDNA clones in Xenopus laevis embryos. We confirm that differential gene expression is prevalent during embryogenesis since 24% of the clones are expressed non-ubiquitously and 8% are organ or cell type specific marker genes. Sequence analysis and clustering yielded 723 unique genes displaying a differential expression pattern. Of these, 18% were already described in Xenopus, 47% have homologs and 35% are lacking significant sequence similarity in databases. Many of them encode known developmental regulators. We classified 363 of the 723 genes for which a Gene Ontology annotation for molecular function could be attributed and found 'DNA binding' and 'enzyme' the most represented terms. The most common protein domains encoded in these embryonic, differentially expressed genes are the homeobox and RNA Recognition Motif (RRM). Fifty-nine putative orthologs of human disease genes, and 254 organ or cell specific marker genes were identified. Markers were found for nasal placode and archenteron roof, organs for which a specific marker was previously unavailable. Markers were also found for novel subdomains of various other organs. The tissues for which most markers were found are muscle and epidermis. Expression of cell cycle regulators fell in two classes, containing proliferation-promoting and anti-proliferative genes, respectively. We identified 66 new members of the BMP4, chromatin, endoplasmic reticulum, and karyopherin synexpression groups, thus providing a first glimpse of their probable cellular roles. Cluster analysis of tissues to measure tissue relatedness yielded some unorthodox affinities besides expectable lineage relationships. In conclusion, this study represents an atlas of gene expression patterns, which reveals embryonic regionalization, provides novel marker genes, and makes predictions about the functional role of unknown genes.

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