Short-Range Inter-Blastomere Signaling Specifies Ectodermal Fate and is Required for Skeletal Patterning in the Sea Urchin

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McIntyre, Daniel Clifton


McClay, David R

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Sea urchin larvae possess a beautiful, intricately patterned, calcium-carbonate skeleton. Formation of this complex structure results from two independent processes within the developing embryo: specification of the mesenchymal cells that produce the skeletal rods, and patterning inputs from the ectoderm, which secretes signals directing the growth and shape of the skeleton. To understand patterning of the skeleton therefore, the specification events behind these two processes must be understood separately, and then connected in order to understand how ectoderm signaling directs skeletal growth. While the former processes of mesenchyme specification and mineralization are under study elsewhere, the means by which ectodermal cues directing skeletal growth are activated and localized is not known. Using molecular genetics, including gene knock downs and mis-expression, as well as microsurgical manipulations of early cleavage embryos, I show how a previously undescribed territory within the ectoderm, the border ectoderm (BE) is specified with short range signaling inputs. Then, experiments show that the BE provides signals that initiate, and contribute to the propagation of skeletogenesis. From this dataset, and from biological experiments I outline a model for how the BE patterns and contributes to the directed growth of the skeleton. I also discuss challenges to this model that need to be addressed in future research. In principle, the mechanism proposed herein depends on the integration of information from both the primary and secondary embryonic axes. It requires both short-range signaling by Wnt5 from the endoderm to establish the BE fate, and TGFß signaling from the oral and aboral ectoderm which subdivides the BE into four territories. These findings demonstrate that the short-range signaling cascade that subdivides the embryo into first mesoderm and then endoderm also specifies ectodermal fates. Ultimately, this research paves the way for understanding how the larval skeleton is patterned during embryogenesis and may provide a paradigm for understanding other, more complex, developmental problems.





McIntyre, Daniel Clifton (2012). Short-Range Inter-Blastomere Signaling Specifies Ectodermal Fate and is Required for Skeletal Patterning in the Sea Urchin. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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