The allocation of early blastomeres to the ectoderm and endoderm is variable in the sea urchin embryo.
During sea urchin development, a tier-to-tier progression of cell signaling events is thought to segregate the early blastomeres to five different cell lineages by the 60-cell stage (E. H. Davidson, 1989, Development 105, 421-445). For example, the sixth equatorial cleavage produces two tiers of sister cells called 'veg1' and 'veg2,' which were projected by early studies to be allocated to the ectoderm and endoderm, respectively. Recent in vitro studies have proposed that the segregation of veg1 and veg2 cells to distinct fates involves signaling between the veg1 and veg2 tiers (O. Khaner and F. Wilt, 1991, Development 112, 881-890). However, fate-mapping studies on 60-cell stage embryos have not been performed with modern lineage tracers, and cell interactions between veg1 and veg2 cells have not been shown in vivo. Therefore, as an initial step towards examining how archenteron precursors are specified, a clonal analysis of veg1 and veg2 cells was performed using the lipophilic dye, DiI(C16), in the sea urchin species, Lytechinus variegatus. Both veg1 and veg2 descendants form archenteron tissues, revealing that the ectoderm and endoderm are not segregated at the sixth cleavage. Also, this division does not demarcate cell type boundaries within the endoderm, because both veg1 and veg2 descendants make an overlapping range of endodermal cell types. The allocation of veg1 cells to ectoderm and endoderm during cleavage is variable, as revealed by both the failure of veg1 descendants labeled at the eighth equatorial division to segregate predictably to either tissue and the large differences in the numbers of veg1 descendants that contribute to the ectoderm. Furthermore, DiI-labeled mesomeres of 32-cell stage embryos also contribute to the endoderm at a low frequency. These results show that the prospective archenteron is produced by a larger population of cleavage-stage blastomeres than believed previously. The segregation of veg1 cells to the ectoderm and endoderm occurs relatively late during development and is unpredictable, indicating that later cell position is more important than the early cleavage pattern in determining ectodermal and archenteron cell fates.
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