Int. J. Dev. Biol. 45: 289 - 297 (2001)
© UBC Press

Nodal signaling and the zebrafish organizer.

A F Schier and W S Talbot

Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine, Department of Cell Biology, New York University School of Medicine, New York 10016, USA. schier@saturn.med.nyu.edu

ABSTRACT Systematic genetic screens in zebrafish have led to the discovery of mutations that affect organizer function and development. The molecular isolation and phenotypic analysis of the affected genes have revealed that TGF-beta signals of the Nodal family play a key role in organizer formation. The activity of the Nodal signals Cyclops and Squint is regulated extracellularly by the EGF-CFC cofactor One-eyed Pinhead and by antagonists belonging to the Lefty family of TGF-beta molecules. In the absence of Nodal signaling, the fate of cells in the organizer is transformed from dorsal mesoderm to neural ectoderm. Differential Nodal signaling also patterns the organizer along the anterior-posterior axis, with high levels required for anterior cell fates and lower levels for posterior fates. In addition, Nodal signaling cooperates with the homeodomain transcription factor Bozozok in organizer formation and neural patterning. The combination of genetic, molecular and embryological approaches in zebrafish has thus provided a framework to understand the mechanisms underlying organizer development.