The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 58: 563 - 573 (2014)

Vol 58, Issue 6-7-8

Special Issue: Spiralian Model Systems

Expression of the wnt gene complement in a spiral-cleaving embryo and trochophore larva

Developmental Expression Pattern | Published: 31 October 2014

Margaret M. Pruitt, Edward J. Letcher, Hsien-Chao Chou, Benjamin R. Bastin and Stephan Q. Schneider*

Department of Genetics, Development and Cell Biology, Iowa State University, Ames, IA, USA


The highly conserved wnt gene family has roles in developmental processes ranging from axis formation to cell fate determination. The polychaete Platynereis dumerilii has retained 12 of the 13 ancient wnt subfamilies and is a good model system to study the roles of the wnt ligands in spiralian development. While it has been shown that Platynereis uses a global beta-catenin-mediated binary cell fate specification module in development, the early roles of the 12 wnt genes present in Platynereis are unknown. Transcriptional profiling by RNA-Seq during early development and whole-mount in situ hybridization of embryo and larval stages were used to determine the temporal and spatial regulation of the wnt complement in Platynereis. None of the 12 wnt transcripts were maternally provided at significant levels. In pregastrula embryos, zygotic wntA, wnt4, and wnt5 transcripts exhibited distinctive patterns of differential gene expression. In contrast, in trochophore larvae, all 12 wnt ligands were expressed and each had a distinct expression pattern. While three wnt ligands were expressed in early development, none were expressed in the right place for a widespread role in beta-catenin-mediated binary specification in early Platynereis development. However, the expression patterns of the wnt ligands suggest the presence of numerous wnt signaling centers, with the most prominent being a bias for staggered posterior wnt expression in trochophore larvae. The similarity to wnt expression domains in cnidarians around the blastopore and the tail organizer in chordates supports a hypothesis of a common evolutionary origin of posterior organizing centers.


wnt, spiral cleaving, signaling center, trochophore, polychaete

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