Nuclearization of β-catenin in ectodermal precursors confers organizer-like ability to induce endomesoderm and pattern a pluteus larva

Christine A. Byrum, Athula H. Wikramanayake

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Background: In many bilaterians, asymmetric activation of canonical Wnt (cWnt) signaling at the posterior pole is critical for anterior-posterior (AP) body axis formation. In 16-cell stage sea urchins, nuclearization of β-catenin in micromeres activates a gene regulatory network that defines body axes and induces endomesoderm. Transplanting micromeres to the animal pole of a host embryo induces ectopic endomesoderm in the mesomeres (ectoderm precursors) whereas inhibiting cWnt signaling blocks their endomesoderm-inducing activity and the micromeres become ectoderm-like. We have tested whether ectopic activation of cWnt signaling in mesomeres is sufficient to impart the cells with organizer-like abilities, allowing them to pattern normal embryonic body axes when recombined with a field of mesomeres.Results: Fertilized eggs were microinjected with constitutively active Xenopus β-catenin (actβ-cat) mRNA and allowed to develop until the 16-cell stage. Two mesomeres from injected embryos were then recombined with isolated animal halves (AH) from uninjected 16-cell stage embryos. Control chimeras produced animalized phenotypes (hollow balls of ectoderm) and rarely formed skeletogenic mesoderm (SM)-derived spicules, endoderm or pigment cells, a type of non-skeletogenic mesoderm (NSM). In contrast, over half of the 0.5 pg/pL actβ-cat mesomere/AH chimeras formed a partial or complete gut (exhibiting AP polarity), contained mesenchyme-like cells similar to SM, and produced pigment cells. At three days, chimeras formed plutei with normal embryonic body axes. When fates of the actβ-cat mRNA-injected mesomeres were tracked, we found that injected mesomeres formed mesenchyme-like and pigment cells, but endoderm was induced. Higher concentrations of actβ-cat mRNA were less likely to induce endoderm or pigment cells, but had similar mesenchyme-like cell production to 0.5 pg/pL actβ-cat mesomere/AH chimeras.Conclusions: Our results show that nuclear β-catenin is sufficient to endow naïve cells with the ability to act as an organizing center and that β-catenin has both cell-autonomous and non-autonomous effects on cell fate specification in a concentration-dependent manner. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that a shift in the site of early cWnt signaling in cleaving embryos could have modified polarity of the main body axes during metazoan evolution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number31
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 4 2013


  • β-catenin
  • Animal-vegetal axis
  • Anterior-posterior polarity
  • Development
  • Endomesoderm
  • Lytechinus variegatus
  • Organizing center
  • Sea urchin
  • Wnt signaling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Developmental Biology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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