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Dev Dyn. 2006 Nov;235(11):3121-31.

A homologue of snail is expressed transiently in subsets of mesenchyme cells in the sea urchin embryo and is down-regulated in axis-deficient embryos.

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Department of Zoology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin, USA.


Vertebrate members of the zinc finger transcription factor family related to Drosophila snail are expressed in neural crest and paraxial mesoderm along the left-right axis of the embryo. As simple deuterostomes, echinoderms are an important sister phylum for the chordates. We have identified populations of patterned, nonskeletogenic mesenchyme in the sea urchin Lytechinus variegatus by their expression of a sea urchin member of the snail family (Lv-snail). Lv-snail mRNA and protein are detectable at the midgastrula stage within the archenteron. At the late gastrula stage, a contiguous cluster of cells on the left side of the tip of the archenteron is Lv-snail-positive. At the early prism stage, two small clusters of mesenchyme cells near the presumptive arm buds are also Lv-snail-positive. At the pluteus stage, staining is detectable in isolated mesenchyme cells and the ciliated band. Based on fate mapping of secondary mesenchyme cells (SMCs) and double-label immunostaining, these patterns are consistent with expression of SNAIL by novel subsets of SMCs that are largely distinct from skeletogenic mesenchyme. In radialized embryos lacking normal bilateral symmetry, mesenchymal expression of Lv-SNAIL is abolished. These results suggest that transient expression of Lv-snail may be important for the differentiation of a subset of axially patterned nonskeletogenic mesenchyme cells and suggest conserved functions for snail family members in deuterostome development.

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