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Growth factor-mediated mesodermal cell guidance and skeletogenesis during sea urchin gastrulation

Adomako-Ankomah A, Ettensohn CA
Development. 2013 Sep 11. [Epub ahead of print]
Growth factor signaling pathways provide essential cues to mesoderm cells during gastrulation in many metazoans. Recent studies have implicated the VEGF and FGF pathways in providing guidance and differentiation cues to primary mesenchyme cells (PMCs) during sea urchin gastrulation, although the relative contributions of these pathways and the cell behaviors they regulate are not fully understood. Here, we show that FGF and VEGF ligands are expressed in distinct domains in the embryonic ectoderm of Lytechinus variegatus. We find that PMC guidance is specifically disrupted in Lv-vegf3 morphants and these embryos fail to form skeletal elements. By contrast, PMC migration is unaffected in Lv-fgfa morphants, and well-patterned but shortened skeletal elements form. We use a VEGFR inhibitor, axitinib, to show that VEGF signaling is essential not only for the initial phase of PMC migration (subequatorial ring formation), but also for the second phase (migration towards the animal pole). VEGF signaling is not required, however, for PMC fusion. Inhibition of VEGF signaling after the completion of PMC migration causes significant defects in skeletogenesis, selectively blocking the elongation of skeletal rods that support the larval arms, but not rods that form in the dorsal region of the embryo. Nanostring nCounter analysis of ∼100 genes in the PMC gene regulatory network shows a decrease in the expression of many genes with proven or predicted roles in biomineralization in vegf3 morphants. Our studies lead to a better understanding of the roles played by growth factors in sea urchin gastrulation and skeletogenesis.
Organism or Cell Type: 
sea urchin: Lytechinus variegatus