Manipulating cell fates in the sea urchin embryo

William H. Klein, Chai an Mao, Lin Gan, Chin kai Chuang, Athula H. Wikramanayake

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


This article describes the mechanisms associated with ectoderm differentiation during sea urchin embryogenesis. Using animal half explants and molecular markers for oral and aboral ectoderm cells, we present evidence that in Lytechinus pictus, two signals from underlying vegetal blastomeres are required for normal ectoderm differentiation. One signal induces the expression of aboral ectoderm genes and a second restricts oral ectoderm expression to the oral side of the embryo. Strongylocentrotus purpuratus animal halves behave somewhat differently than Lytechinus pictus in their ability to express aboral ectoderm-specific genes. In order to determine how ectoderm genes are activated in early development, we have analyzed the transcriptional control region of the aboral ectoderm-specific Spec2a gene. This control region confers aboral ectoderm-specific expression on Spec2a by means of an aboral ectoderm/mesenchyme cell-specific enhancer and a mesenchyme cell repressor element. The Spec2a enhancer contains multiple DNA-binding sites for SpOtx, a homeobox transcription factor related to Drosophila orthodenticle and mouse Otx1 and Otx2. SpOtx is present throughout development but unexpectedly, at stages before late cleavage is found mainly in the cytoplasm. Between late cleavage and early blastula stages, SpOtx translocates into the nucleus. Overexpressing SpOtx by injecting SpOtx mRNA into living eggs results in a thin epithelial ball with essentially all cells displaying aboral ectoderm properties. We suggest a model whereby overexpression of SpOtx leads to premature nuclear translocation and conversion of all progenitor cells in the embryo to an aboral ectoderm fate. Our results imply that SpOtx plays a major role in the differentiation of aboral ectoderm cells during sea urchin development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)21-29
Number of pages9
JournalInvertebrate Reproduction and Development
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • Cell differentiation
  • Cell-cell interactions
  • Ectoderm differentiation
  • Homeobox proteins
  • Sea urchin embryos

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Developmental Biology


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