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Dev Biol. 1995 Nov;172(1):192-205.

Activin and its receptors during gastrulation and the later phases of mesoderm development in the chick embryo.

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Department of Genetics and Development, College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, New York, New York 10032, USA.


We have cloned chick homologues of the type-II activin receptor, which we have designated cActR-IIA and -IIB. Binding assays show that the two receptors are indistinguishable in their ability to bind activin-A, with comparable kds. Injection of mRNAs encoding these receptors into Xenopus embryos causes axial duplications. Expression of both receptors can first be detected in the primitive streak by in situ hybridization. This suggests that these genes may be activated in response to mesoderm induction. In agreement with this, we find that treatment of preprimitive streak chick embryos with activin-A leads to rapid induction of the expression of cActR-IIB. At later stages, cActR-IIA transcripts become localized mainly in the notochord and myotome and cActR-IIB in the dorsal neural tube, proximal-anterior part of the limb bud, sensory placodes, and specific regions of the fore- and midbrain. To test the response of early chick embryonic tissues to activin, we designed a new in vitro assay for differentiation. We find that explants of area opaca epiblast or posterior primitive streak from various stages can respond to activin treatment by differentiating into a variety of mesodermal cell types in a dose-dependent manner. These results suggest that the importance of activin-related signaling pathways is not confined to pregastrulation stages and that these receptors may be involved in mediating the effects of inducing signals during later stages of development of the mesoderm, limbs, and nervous system.

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