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Development. 1995 Oct;121(10):3131-40.

The dorsal involuting marginal zone stiffens anisotropically during its convergent extension in the gastrula of Xenopus laevis.

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Department of Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley 94720-3140, USA.


Physically, the course of morphogenesis is determined by the distribution and timing of force production in the embryo and by the mechanical properties of the tissues on which these forces act. We have miniaturized a standard materials-testing procedure (the stress-relaxation test) to measure the viscoelastic properties of the dorsal involuting marginal zone, prechordal mesoderm, and vegetal endoderm of Xenopus laevis embryos during gastrulation. We focused on the involuting marginal zone, because it undergoes convergent extension (an important and wide-spread morphogenetic process) and drives involution, blastopore closure and elongation of the embryonic axis. We show that the involuting marginal zone stiffens during gastrulation, stiffening is a special property of this region rather than a general property of the whole embryo, stiffening is greater along the anteroposterior axis than the mediolateral axis and changes in the cytoskeleton or extracellular matrix are necessary for stiffening, although changes in cell-cell adhesions or cell-matrix adhesions are not ruled out. These findings provide a baseline of data on which future experiments can be designed and make specific, testable predictions about the roles of the cytoskeleton, extracellular matrix and intercellular adhesion in convergent extension, as well as predictions about the morphogenetic role of convergent extension in early development.

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