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Development. 1989;107 Suppl:37-51.

Cortical rotation of the Xenopus egg: consequences for the anteroposterior pattern of embryonic dorsal development.

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  • 1Department of Molecular Biology, University of California, Berkeley 94720.


We first review cortical-cytoplasmic rotation, a microtubule-mediated process by which the Xenopus egg, like other amphibian eggs, transforms its polarized cylindrical symmetry into bilateral symmetry within the first cell cycle after fertilization. This transformation, the earliest of many steps leading to dorsal development, involves the displacement of the egg's cortex relative to its cytoplasmic core by 30 degrees in an animal-vegetal direction. As rotation is progressively reduced by microtubule-depolymerizing agents, embryos develop with body axes progressively deleted for dorsal structures at the anterior end. With no rotation, ventralized embryos are formed. In an effort to comprehend this progressive effect on embryonic organization, we go on to review subsequent developmental process depending on rotation, and we propose, with evidence, that reduced rotation leads to a reduced number of vegetal dorsalizing cells, which induce during the blastula stage a Spemann organizer region of smaller than normal size. The reduced organizer then promotes a reduced amount of cell rearrangement (morphogenesis) at gastrulation. Reduced morphogenesis seems the proximate cause of the incompleteness of axial pattern, as shown further by the fact that embryos that are normal until the gastrula stage, if exposed to inhibitors of morphogenesis, develop body axes that are progressively less complete in their anterior dorsal organization the earlier their gastrulation had been blocked. We discuss why axial pattern might depend systematically on morphogenesis.

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