Wnt signaling in the early sea urchin embryo

Shalika Kumburegama, Athula Wikramanayake

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Wnt signaling regulates a remarkably diverse array of cellular and developmental events during animal embryogenesis and homeostasis. The crucial role that Wnt signaling plays in regulating axial patterning in early embryos has been particularly striking. Recent work has highlighted the conserved role that canonical Wnt signaling plays in patterning the animal-vegetal (A-V) axis in sea urchin and sea anemone embryos. In sea urchin embryos, the canonical Wnt signaling pathway is selectively turned on in vegetal cells as early as the 16-cell stage embryo, and signaling through this pathway is required for activation of the endomesodermal gene regulatory network. Loss of nuclear β-catenin signaling animalizes the sea urchin embryo and blocks pattern formation along the entire A-V axis. Nuclear entry of β-catenin into vegetal cells is regulated cell autonomously by maternal information that is present at the vegetal pole of the unfertilized egg. Analysis of Dishevelled (Dsh) regulation along the A-V axis has revealed the presence of a cytoarchitectural domain at the vegetal pole of the unfertilized sea urchin egg. This vegetal cortical domain appears to be crucial for the localized activation of Dsh at the vegetal pole, but the precise mechanisms are unknown. The elucidation of how Dsh is selectively activated at the vegetal cortical domain is likely to provide important insight into how this enigmatic protein is regulated during canonical Wnt signaling. Additionally, this information will shed light on the origins of embryonic polarity during animal evolution. This chapter examines the roles played by the canonical Wnt signaling pathway in the specification and patterning of the A-V axis in the sea urchin. These studies have led to the identification of a novel role for canonical Wnt signaling in regulating protein stability, and continued studies of Wnt signaling in this model system are likely to reveal additional roles for this pathway in regulating early patterning events in embryos.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)187-199
Number of pages13
JournalMethods in Molecular Biology
StatePublished - Dec 1 2008


  • β-catenin
  • A-V axis
  • Canonical Wnt signaling
  • Endomesoderm
  • Sea urchin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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