Patterning Non-neural Ectoderm by Organizer-Modulated Homeodomain Factors

  • Thomas D. Sargent


Embryonic cells must be provided with spatial and temporal information in order for development to occur. Classical embryology suggests two general sources of spatial cues. One is based on specific and oriented distribution of egg cytoplasmic contents to rigidly arranged blastomere lineages determining fate within this architectural context. This was termed “mosaic” development and is exemplified by invertebrates such as C. elegans, certain snails and ascidians. The second classical mode of spatial organization is based on induction between cells. An extreme example of this is the mammalian embryo, which even after disaggregation and prolonged culture in vitro, can still be organized into a completely normal embryo (Gilbert 2000). With its fertilization-triggered cytoplasmic rearrangements and partially defined fate map at early cleavage, Xenopus is somewhere in the middle of this spectrum, but has been particularly useful for studies of induction. The cell—cell interactions that drive this organizational mechanism have been a major topic of investigation for the past 100 years or so, reaching a historical, if not mechanistic, climax in 1924 with the embryological characterization of what became known as the Spemann/Mangold organizer. An important corollary of the organizer model, and the many studies that it inspired, is the concept of intercellular signals, or morphogens, that are generated from local sources, and somehow diffuse or are transported away from this source, leading to a morphogenetic gradient of signal strength that conveys positional information to embryonic cells. Several molecules have been postulated to serve this function with respect to the organizer, most notably members of the bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) subfamily of TGFβ-like growth factors, predominantly ventral in origin, and BMP antagonists secreted by organizer tissue (Balemans and van Hul 2002).


Bone Morphogenetic Protein Neural Crest Neural Plate Bone Morphogenetic Protein Signaling Cement Gland 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thomas D. Sargent
    • 1
  1. 1.Laboratory of Molecular Genetics, National Institute of Child Health and Human DevelopmentNational Institutes of HealthBethesdaUSA

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