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PLoS One. 2013 Jul 19;8(7):e69693. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0069693. Print 2013.

Transcriptional regulation of mesoderm genes by MEF2D during early Xenopus development.

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Department of Biochemistry, Faculty of Medicine, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel.


In Xenopus, specification of the three germ layers is one of the earliest developmental decisions occurring prior to gastrulation. The maternally-expressed vegetally-localized transcription factor VegT has a central role in cell autonomous specification of endoderm and in the generation of mesoderm-inducing signals. Yet, marginally-expressed transcription factors that cooperate with mesoderm-inducing signals are less investigated. Here we report that the transcription factors MEF2A and MEF2D are expressed in the animal hemisphere before mid-blastula transition. At the initiation of zygotic transcription, expression of MEF2D expands into the marginal region that gives rise to mesoderm. Knockdown of MEF2D delayed gastrulation movements, prevented embryo elongation at the subsequent tailbud stage and caused severe defects in axial tissues. At the molecular level, MEF2D knockdown reduced the expression of genes involved in mesoderm formation and patterning. We also report that MEF2D functions with FGF signaling in a positive feedback loop; each augments the expression of the other in the marginal region and both are necessary for mesodermal gene expression. One target of MEF2D is the Nodal-related 1 gene (Xnr1) that mediates some of MEF2D mesodermal activities. Chromatin immunoprecipitation analysis revealed that MEF2D associates with transcriptional regulatory sequences of the Xnr1 gene. Several MEF2 binding sites within the proximal promoter region of Xnr1 were identified by their in vitro association with MEF2D protein. The same promoter region was necessary but not sufficient to mediate MEF2D activity in a reporter gene assay. In sum, our results indicate that the MEF2D protein is a key transcription factor in the marginal zone acting in a positive feedback loop with FGF signaling that promotes mesoderm specification at late blastula stages.

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