Int. J. Dev. Biol. 44: 129 - 140 (2000)
© UPV/EHU Press

Effects of follistatin and BMP4 proteins on early dorso-ventral patterning in chick.

D J Connolly, K Patel, S Withington and J Cooke

Division of Developmental Neurobiology, National Institute for Medical Research, London, United Kingdom.

ABSTRACT In Xenopus and zebrafish certain bone morphognetic proteins (BMPs), and proteins that antagonise these by preventing their interaction with receptors, constitute a morphogen system in primary dorso-ventral patterning. This system may be directly involved in the parallel processes, within mesoderm and ectoderm, whereby the boundaries of the dorsal (paraxial) mesoderm and the neural plate are established. The bird blastoderm, amenable to grafting techniques and to direct exposure to specific proteins, has provided an opportunity to explore the phylogenetic conservation of such antagonistic system. We have grafted the gastrular organiser (node) into hosts, testing the effects of prior exposure of either grafted or host tissue to Follistatin (a known antagonist of TGFbeta superfamily ligands including BMP4) or to BMP4 protein. Strong, converse effects are seen from the two agents, the most consistent being on the sizes of new dorsalised areas (second neural plates) induced in host epiblast. Follistatin also enhances extension movements due to grafts, though without clear effect upon the rostro-caudal completeness of new patterns. Neural induction in chick epiblast by grafted mouse nodes are also more extensive, after their pre-incubation in Follistatin. Follistatin potentiates other, unknown but distinctive signals coming from the node, being unable to convert other non-inducing pieces of blastoderm into organisers on grafting. Pre-incubation of early blastoderms in BMP4 has such profound effects on normal dorsal axial development that host responsiveness of these blastoderms as hosts to node grafts is difficult to assess. Follistatin has no such overt effect on host development, but greatly enhances the competence of host epiblast to grafts of untreated nodes. Early chick BMP4 and BMP7 expressions are consistent with the proposed roles, though Follistatin is probably an experimental tool only in the present study.