Curr Top Dev Biol. 2020;140:283-316. doi: 10.1016/bs.ctdb.2019.10.007. Epub 2019 Nov 22.

Maria Dolores Molina  1 , Thierry Lepage  2


1 Institut de Biologie Valrose, Université Côte d’Azur, Nice, France.
2 Institut de Biologie Valrose, Université Côte d’Azur, Nice, France. Electronic address:


Specification of the main axes of polarity of the embryo is an essential process during embryonic development. In many species, this process is achieved by the localization of maternal factors into discrete regions of the egg. However, in other animals, like in amniotes and in echinoderms, the considerable plasticity of the early blastomeres seems to preclude the existence of maternal determinants and the mechanisms by which the radial symmetry of the egg is broken remain largely enigmatic. In this chapter, we review recent progress on the identification of maternal components involved in symmetry breaking and dorsal-ventral (D/V) axis formation of the sea urchin embryo. We will first review some key experiments on D/V axis formation from classical embryologists that provided evidence for a weak maternal D/V prepattern. We will then detail more recent molecular analyses that established the critical role played by Nodal signaling in allocating cell fates along the secondary axis and led to the discovery that maternal transcription factors such as the Sry-related HMG box B1 (SoxB1), the Octamer binding factor1/2 (Oct1/2), the T-cell factor/Lymphoid enhancer-binding factor (TCF/LEF) and the Erythroblastosis virus E26 Oncogene Homolog (ETS) domain transcriptional repressor Translocation-Ets-Leukemia virus protein (Yan/Tel) as well as maternal signaling molecules like Univin are essential for the initiation of nodal expression. Finally, we will describe recent advances that uncovered a role in symmetry breaking and dorsal-ventral axis orientation for the transforming growth factor beta (TGF-beta)-like factor Panda, which appears to be both necessary and sufficient for D/V axis orientation. Therefore, even in the highly regulative sea urchin embryo, the activity of localized maternal factors provides the embryo with a blueprint of the D/V axis.

PMID: 32591077
DOI: 10.1016/bs.ctdb.2019.10.007