The tolerance to hypoxia is defined by a time-sensitive response of the gene regulatory network in sea urchin embryos

Majed Layous, Lama Khalaily, Tsvia Gildor, Smadar Ben Tabou de-Leon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Deoxygenation, the reduction of oxygen level in the oceans induced by global warming and anthropogenic disturbances, is a major threat to marine life. This change in oxygen level could be especially harmful to marine embryos that use endogenous hypoxia and redox gradients as morphogens during normal development. Here, we show that the tolerance to hypoxic conditions changes between different developmental stages of the sea urchin embryo, possibly due to the structure of the gene regulatory networks (GRNs). We demonstrate that during normal development, the bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) pathway restricts the activity of the vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) pathway to two lateral domains and this restriction controls proper skeletal patterning. Hypoxia applied during early development strongly perturbs the activity of Nodal and BMP pathways that affect the VEGF pathway, dorsal-ventral (DV) and skeletogenic patterning. These pathways are largely unaffected by hypoxia applied after DV-axis formation. We propose that the use of redox and hypoxia as morphogens makes the sea urchin embryo highly sensitive to environmental hypoxia during early development, but the GRN structure provides higher tolerance to hypoxia at later stages.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberdev195859
JournalDevelopment (Cambridge)
Issue number8
StatePublished - Apr 2021

Bibliographical note

© 2021. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd.


  • Animals
  • Bone Morphogenetic Proteins/genetics
  • Embryo, Nonmammalian/embryology
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Gene Regulatory Networks
  • Hypoxia/embryology
  • Paracentrotus
  • Signal Transduction
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A/genetics


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