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Regulative deployment of the skeletogenic gene regulatory network during sea urchin development
Tara Sharma, Charles A. Ettensohn


The well-known regulative properties of the sea urchin embryo, coupled with the recent elucidation of gene regulatory networks (GRNs) that underlie cell specification, make this a valuable experimental model for analyzing developmental plasticity. In the sea urchin, the primary mesenchyme cell (PMC) GRN controls the development of the embryonic skeleton. Remarkably, experimental manipulations reveal that this GRN can be activated in almost any cell of the embryo. Here, we focus on the activation of the PMC GRN during gastrulation by non-skeletogenic mesoderm (NSM) cells and by endoderm cells. We show that most transfating NSM cells are prospective blastocoelar cells, not prospective pigment cells, as was previously believed. Earlier work showed that the regulative deployment of the GRN, unlike its deployment in the micromere-PMC lineage, is independent of the transcriptional repressor Pmar1. In this work, we identify several additional differences in the upstream regulation of the GRN during normal and regulative development. We provide evidence that, despite these changes in the upstream regulation of the network, downstream regulatory genes and key morphoregulatory genes are deployed in transfating NSM cells in a fashion that recapitulates the normal deployment of the GRN, and which can account for the striking changes in migratory behavior that accompany NSM transfating. Finally, we report that mitotic cell division is not required for genomic reprogramming in this system, either within a germ layer (NSM transfating) or across a germ layer boundary (endoderm transfating).

  • Accepted March 20, 2011.
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