An ancient role for nuclear β-catenin in the evolution of axial polarity and germ layer segregation

Athula H. Wlkramanayake, Melanie Hong, Patricia N. Lee, Kevin Pang, Christine A. Byrum, Joanna M. Bince, Ronghui Xu, Mark Q. Martindale

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

253 Scopus citations


The human oncogene β-catenin is a bifunctional protein with critical roles in both cell adhesion and transcriptional regulation in the Wnt pathway. Wnt/β-catenin signalling has been implicated in developmental processes as diverse as elaboration of embryonic polarity, formation of germ layers, neural patterning, spindle orientation and gap junction communication, but the ancestral function of β-catenin remains unclear. In many animal embryos, activation of β-catenin signalling occurs in blastomeres that mark the site of gastrulation and endomesoderm formation, raising the possibility that asymmetric activation of β-catenin signalling specified embryonic polarity and segregated germ layers in the common ancestor of bilaterally symmetrical animals. To test whether nuclear translocation of β-catenin is involved in axial identity and/or germ layer formation in 'pre-bilaterians', we examined the in vivo distribution, stability and function of β-catenin protein in embryos of the sea anemone Nematostella vectensis (Cnidaria, Anthozoa). Here we show that N. vectensis β-catenin is differentially stabilized along the oral-aboral axis, translocated into nuclei in cells at the site of gastrulation and used to specify entoderm, indicating an evolutionarily ancient role for this protein in early pattern formation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)446-450
Number of pages5
Issue number6965
StatePublished - Nov 27 2003
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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