Background: Gastrulation is a uniquely metazoan character, and its genesis was arguably the key step that enabled the remarkable diversification within this clade. The process of gastrulation involves two tightly coupled events during embryogenesis of most metazoans. Morphogenesis produces a distinct internal epithelial layer in the embryo, and this epithelium becomes segregated as an endoderm/endomesodermal germ layer through the activation of a specific gene regulatory program. The developmental mechanisms that induced archenteron formation and led to the segregation of germ layers during metazoan evolution are unknown. But an increased understanding of development in early diverging taxa at the base of the metazoan tree may provide insights into the origins of these developmental mechanisms.Results: In the anthozoan cnidarian Nematostella vectensis, initial archenteron formation begins with bottle cell-induced buckling of the blastula epithelium at the animal pole. Here, we show that bottle cell formation and initial gut invagination in Nematostella requires NvStrabismus (NvStbm), a maternally-expressed core component of the Wnt/Planar Cell Polarity (PCP) pathway. The NvStbm protein is localized to the animal pole of the zygote, remains asymmetrically expressed through the cleavage stages, and becomes restricted to the apical side of invaginating bottle cells at the blastopore. Antisense morpholino-mediated NvStbm-knockdown blocks bottle cell formation and initial archenteron invagination, but it has no effect on Wnt/ß-catenin signaling-mediated endoderm cell fate specification. Conversely, selectively blocking Wnt/ß-catenin signaling inhibits endoderm cell fate specification but does not affect bottle cell formation and initial archenteron invagination.Conclusions: Our results demonstrate that Wnt/PCP-mediated initial archenteron invagination can be uncoupled from Wnt/ß-catenin-mediated endoderm cell fate specification in Nematostella, and provides evidence that these two processes could have evolved independently during metazoan evolution. We propose a two-step model for the evolution of an archenteron and the evolution of endodermal germ layer segregation. Asymmetric accumulation and activation of Wnt/PCP components at the animal pole of the last common ancestor to the eumetazoa may have induced the cell shape changes that led to the initial formation of an archenteron. Activation of Wnt/ß-catenin signaling at the animal pole may have led to the activation of a gene regulatory network that specified an endodermal cell fate in the archenteron.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Developmental Biology