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Dev Biol. 2009 Jun 1;330(1):123-30. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2009.03.017. Epub 2009 Mar 27.

Oral-aboral axis specification in the sea urchin embryo III. Role of mitochondrial redox signaling via H2O2.

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Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory, Old Bar Harbor Road, Salisbury Cove, ME 04672, USA.


In sea urchin embryos, specification of the secondary (oral-aboral) axis occurs via nodal, expression of which is entirely zygotic and localized to prospective oral ectoderm at blastula stage. The initial source of this spatial anisotropy is not known. Previous studies have shown that oral-aboral (OA) polarity correlates with a mitochondrial gradient, and that nodal activity is dependent both on mitochondrial respiration and p38 stress-activated protein kinase. Here we show that the spatial pattern of nodal activity also correlates with the mitochondrial gradient, and that the latter correlates with inhomogeneous levels of intracellular reactive oxygen species. To test whether mitochondrial H(2)O(2) functions as a redox signal to activate nodal, zygotes were injected with mRNA encoding either mitochondrially-targeted catalase, which quenches mitochondrial H(2)O(2) and down-regulates p38, or superoxide dismutase, which augments mitochondrial H(2)O(2) and up-regulates p38. Whereas the former treatment inhibits the initial activation of nodal and entrains OA polarity toward aboral when confined to half of the embryo via 2-cell stage blastomere injections, the latter does not produce the opposite effects. We conclude that mitochondrial H(2)O(2) is rate-limiting for the initial activation of nodal, but that additional rate-limiting factors, likely also involving mitochondria, contribute to the asymmetry in nodal expression.

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