Gene regulatory control in the sea urchin aboral ectoderm: Spatial initiation, signaling inputs, and cell fate lockdown

Smadar Ben-Tabou de-Leon, Yi Hsien Su, Kuan Ting Lin, Enhu Li, Eric H. Davidson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The regulation of oral-aboral ectoderm specification in the sea urchin embryo has been extensively studied in recent years. The oral-aboral polarity is initially imposed downstream of a redox gradient induced by asymmetric maternal distribution of mitochondria. Two TGF-Β signaling pathways, Nodal and BMP, are then respectively utilized in the generation of oral and aboral regulatory states. However, a causal understanding of the regulation of aboral ectoderm specification has been lacking. In this work control of aboral ectoderm regulatory state specification was revealed by combining detailed regulatory gene expression studies, perturbation and cis-regulatory analyses. Our analysis illuminates a dynamic system where different factors dominate at different developmental times. We found that the initial activation of aboral genes depends directly on the redox sensitive transcription factor, hypoxia inducible factor 1α (HIF-1α). Two BMP ligands, BMP2/4 and BMP5/8, then significantly enhance aboral regulatory gene transcription. Ultimately, encoded feedback wiring lockdown the aboral ectoderm regulatory state. Our study elucidates the different regulatory mechanisms that sequentially dominate the spatial localization of aboral regulatory states.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)245-254
Number of pages10
JournalDevelopmental Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Research was supported by NIH grant HD-037105 to EHD and by National Science Council grants 99-2627-B-001-003 and 1 01-2923-B-001-004-MY2 to YS.


  • Cis-regulatory analysis
  • Developmental control
  • Ectoderm specification
  • Gene regulatory networks
  • Sea urchin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology
  • Developmental Biology


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