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1 January 2002 Potential of veg2 Blastomeres to Induce Endoderm Differentiation in Sea Urchin Embryos
Minoru Iijima, Shonan Amemiya
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Two different modes of gastrulation in sea urchin embryos have been reported. The first mode, reported in Hemicentrotus pulcherrimus and some other species, consists of two phases: a primary and a secondary invagination. The second mode involves gastrulation with a continuous convolution of cells near the blastopore; this mode has been reported to occur in the embryos of the sand dollar, Scaphechinus mirabilis. The rudimentary gut is comprised of fewer cells in the embryos of the former species than in the latter. We assumed that the differences in gastrulation modes could be related to the different potentials of the veg2 layer to induce endoderm differentiation in the upper layer. In the present study, we produced chimeric embryos consisting of an animal cap recombined with veg2 layer blastomere(s) to compare the inductive effect of the veg2 layer and/or the blastomere(s) in H. pulcherrimus and S. mirabilis embryos. Our results showed that the inductive effect of the veg2 layer is stronger in S. mirabilis embryos than in H. pulcherrimus embryos. Moreover, it was suggested that the difference in the strength of inductive effects of veg2 layers is related to the difference in gastrulation modes.


Gastrulation in sea urchin embryos has been reported to consist of two different phases (Dan and Okazaki, 1956; Gustafson and Kinnander, 1956): primary invagination (autonomous buckling of the vegetal plate) and secondary invagination. Secondary invagination can be further divided into two steps. In the first step, the archenteron elongates via a rearrangement of the cells in the rudimentary gut that was formed by the primary invagination (Ettensohn, 1985; Hardin and Cheng, 1986). In the second step, the secondary mesenchyme cells (SMCs) raise the gut by the filopodial constriction to complete gastrulation (Hardin, 1988). In this mode of gastrulation, no new cells are added to the arch-enteron after the primary invagination is completed (Kominami and Masui, 1996).

Although this gastrulation process has been observed in numerous echinoid species, a second type of gastrulation has been reported in the sand dollar, S. mirabilis. Gastrulation in this organism does not appear to have discernible phases (Kominami and Masui, 1996; Kominami and Takata, 2000). Convolution of the cells near the blastopore persists, even during the late gastrula stage.

At the 64-cell stage of the normal development of echinoid embryos, the rudimentary archenteron consists of descendants of part of the veg1 layer and all of the veg2 layer (Ruffins and Ettensohn, 1996; Logan and McClay, 1997). Kominami and Masui (1996) suggested that more cells derived from the veg1 layer contribute to the completion of the archenteron in S. mirabilis embryos than in H. pulcherrimus embryos, which exhibit the typical gastrulation process. Kominami and Masui (1996) also indicated that the number of cells in rudimentary gut was much higher in S. mirabilis embryos than in H. pulcherrimus embryos.

It has been hypothesized that a cascade of signals originating in the micromeres produced at the 16-cell stage flows from the vegetal to the animal direction for later cell specification (Davidson, 1989), and various experiments have supported this concept. Pluteus larvae develop from chimeric embryos consisting of micromeres and presumptive ectoderm (animal cap) (Horstadius, 1973; Amemiya, 1996; Minokawa et al., 1997; Minokawa and Amemiya, 1998). Both ectopic SMCs (McClay et al., 2000) and the secondary archenteron (Ransick and Davidson, 1993) have been found to be induced when exogenous micromeres are transplanted, indicating that the micromeres emit the inductive signal, although the timing of the micromere signal for arch-enteron induction might be much later than the 16-cell stage (Minokawa and Amemiya, 1999; Ishizuka et al., 2001). Micromere deletion at the 16-cell stage results in considerable reduction of the expression of the vegetal plate specific gene Endo16 (Ransick and Davidson, 1995) and in no specification of SMCs (Sweet et al., 1999; McClay et al., 2000).

At the 6th cleavage, macromere descendants divide horizontally to form veg1 and veg2 layers. The inductive effect of veg2 cells is necessary for part of the veg1 cells to differentiate into endoderm (Logan and McClay, 1999). In the present study, we investigated the inductive activity of the veg2 layers in H. pulcherrimus and S. mirabilis embryos as a means of determining whether the difference in the activity of the inductive effects of the veg2 layers is connected to the different modes of invagination. Our results showed that the ability of the veg2 layer to induce endoderm differentiation in the animal-cap cells of S. mirabilis embryos is greater than in H. pulcherrimus embryos.


Animals and embryos

Adult sea urchins (Hemicentrotus pulcherrimus) were collected around the Miura peninsula, while adult sand dollars (Scaphechinus mirabilis) were provided by the Otsuchi Marine Research Center and collected in the Inland Sea of Japan (Setonaikai). Gametes were obtained by the intracoelomic injection of 0.1 M acetylcholine chloride. The eggs were washed several times with artificial sea water (ASW; Jamarin-U, Jamarin Laboratory, Osaka, Japan). Fertilization was performed in 1 mM of aminotriazole (ATA) sea water to facilitate demembranization by preventing the fertilization envelopes from hardening. The fertilization envelopes were removed by pipetting the egg suspension with a fine-bore pipette. The demembranized eggs were cultured at about 14°C for H. pulcherrimus and at about 18°C for S. mirabilis in a Petri dish coated with 1.2% agar and filled with ASW.

Recombination of veg2 layers with animal caps

The recombinants were produced according to the basic method of Minokawa and Amemiya (1999), with some minor adjustments.

Animal caps were isolated at the 32-cell stage in calcium-free sea water (CFSW) using a glass needle from a group of embryos that had been cultured in ASW. Another group of sibling embryos was cultured in ASW containing 50 μg/ml of rhodamine isothiocyanate (RITC; R-1755. Sigma Chemical Co., St Louis, MO, USA) from the 1 to 8-cell stage and then transferred to another dish filled with ASW. The veg2 layers were isolated from the RITC-labeled embryos at the 64-cell stage in CFSW using a glass needle. The animal cap recombinants with the labeled veg2 layer were produced and cultured in another dish coated with 1.2% agar and filled with ASW containing 100 units/ml of penicillin and 50 μg/ml of streptomycin sulfate (Fig. 1).

The developing recombinants were observed using an epifluorescence microscope (Optiphot, Nikon Corporation, Tokyo, Japan).

Detection of alkaline phosphatase activity

The procedures for detecting alkaline phosphatase activity were essentially identical to those reported by Minokawa and Amemiya (1999).


Animal halves of sea urchin embryos isolated during the early cleavage stage differentiate exclusively into ectoderm to form a permanent blastula. However, the animal halves also have the potential to develop into pluteus-like larvae under the inductive influence of other blastomeres that have been recombined (Horstadius, 1973; Amemiya, 1996; Logan and McClay, 1999). We produced recombinant embryos [A+V2(8)] (Fig. 1) consisting of an animal half (A) and a veg2 layer (V2) that contained eight blastomeres (8) to determine the inductive potential of the veg2 layer. We judged the strength of the inductive effect of veg2 cells, by how many parts of the tripartite digestive tract originated from the animal-half cells. As the inductive effect increased in this system, cells derived from animal cap to have contributed to more parts of the tract could be assumed.

Fig. 1

Experimental procedure for producing recombinant embryos. The diagram shows the recombination of the animal cap with the veg2 layer (A). Bright field images (B, D) and fluorescent images (C, E) of the animal cap (arrowheads) and labeled veg2 layer (arrows) isolated from S. mirabilis embryos. Bar, 100 μm


All of the [A+V2(8)] embryos in H. pulcherrimus developed into pluteus larvae (25/25) with a differentiated digestive tract (Fig. 2A,B). The labeled cells showed that the foregut and midgut were composed of veg2 descendants, whereas the hindgut did not contain any labeled cells in nearly half of the recombinants (Table 1). In this half of the recombinants, the hindgut had differentiated from the animal-half cells under the inductive influence of the veg2 cells (Fig. 2A,B, double arrowheads). In the other recombinants, however, the labeled veg2 cells prevailed throughout the entire tripartite digestive tract, indicating that induction had not occurred in these cases (Table 1). In S. mirabilis, a number of [A+V2(8)] embryos also developed into pluteus larvae (22/29) with a differentiated digestive tract (Fig. 2C,D). In almost all of these recombinants, only the foregut (Fig. 2C,D, arrowheads) was composed of the veg2-descendant cells, with the midgut (Fig. 2C,D, arrows) and hindgut (Fig. 2C,D, out of focus) being derived from the animal-half cells (Table 1).

Fig. 2

Larvae with a digestive tract derived from recombinant embryos [A+V2(8)] in H. pulcherrimus (A, B) and S. mirabilis (C, D) two days after fertilization. A and C show bright field images, viewed from the left and dorsal sides, respectively. B and D show fluorescent images corresponding to A and B, respectively. Arrowheads, arrows and double arrowheads point to the foregut, midgut and hindgut, respectively. Bar, 100 μm


Table 1

The effect of veg2 layer on the induction of endoderm differentiation in animal-half cells. Each number is shown with percentage in parentheses


Alkaline phosphatase (APase) activity was examined to confirm whether the animal-half cells had functionally differentiated into a digestive tract. In both species, APase activity was expressed in the midgut and hindgut of the digestive tract derived from the animal-half cells in the recombinant larvae (Fig. 3), as in the normal larvae (Amemiya, 1996; Minokawa et al., 1997).

Fig. 3

Alkaline phosphatase (APase) activity in larvae derived from recombinant embryos [A+V2(8)], viewed from the left side. APase activity is detected in the induced hindgut of H. pulcherrimus (A) and the induced mid- and hindgut of S. mirabilis (B). Arrows and arrowheads point to the midgut and hindgut, respectively. Bar, 100 μm


The midgut and hindgut of S. mirabilis were entirely derived from the animal-half cells in all [A+V2(8)] chimeric embryos that developed the archenteron. In H. pulcherrimus, however, less than half of the chimeric embryos exhibited animal-half cells, and only in a limited region of the hindgut. These results indicate that the inductive potency of the veg2 layer in S. mirabilis is higher than in H. pulcherrimus. As described in the introduction, the mode of gastrulation in S. mirabilis embryos is different from that in H. pulcherrimus (Kominami and Masui, 1996). The number of cells in the archenteron in S. mirabilis embryos increased as gastrulation proceeded, whereas the numbers were almost constant in H. pulcherrimus. On the basis of the results obtained in the present study, the following appear to be possible explanations for the difference in modes of gastrulation in these two species. The inductive activity of the veg2 layer or the competence of the animal side cells in H. pulcherrimus embryos is weaker than in S. mirabilis, so that fewer cells in the animal side layer in H. pulcherrimus embryos are specified to endoderm than in S. mirabilis. It is also possible that the inductive signal of micromeres drives that of the veg2 layer, as reported by Davidson (1989) and Davidson et al. (1998). The difference in the intensity of the inductive effect of the veg2 layers may be associated with the difference in that of the micromeres between the two species. We are now producing the interspecies chimeric embryos derived from an animal cap isolated from one species recombined with a veg2 layer or a quartet of micromeres isolated from the other in order to investigate the above possibilities.

Next, we produced several types of chimeric embryos [A+V2(x)] consisting of an animal cap (A) recombined with four, two, and one blastomere(s) (number, x) of the veg2 layer (V2) in H. pulcherrimus. More anterior fractions of the digestive tract were induced to differentiate from the animal-half cells when fewer numbers of veg2 blastomeres were recombined (Fig. 4A), indicating that the inductive effect of the veg2 blastomeres rose as the number of veg2 blastomeres decreased. Chimeric S. mirabilis embryos [A+V2(1)] consisting of an animal cap (A) recombined with just one (1) of the veg2 (V2) blastomeres were produced, and the inductive potential of the veg2 blastomere was found to be higher than that of the veg2 layer (Fig. 4B). These results show that the inductive activity of veg2 blastomere(s) increased as the number of veg2 blastomeres decreased. The mechanism(s) responsible for the decreased number of veg2 blastomeres exerting stronger inductive activity than the increased number of blastomeres is still unknown. One possibility is that a lateral interaction between veg2 blastomeres inhibits the inductive activity of neighboring cells, as reported by Henry et al. (1989) in regard to the mesomeres.

Fig. 4

Difference in inductive effects related to variations in number of veg2 layer blastomeres of [A+V2(x)] embryos in H. pulcherrimus (A) and S. mirabilis (B). The induced region derived from animal-half cells within the digestive tract is shown diagrammatically under each group of columns. The parts of labeled veg2 cells are painted over. Arrows, arrowheads, and double arrowheads point to the hindgut, midgut, and foregut, respectively, of the induced animal-half cells.

* The labeled veg2 cells prevailed through all parts of the tripartite gut, so that no induction of veg2 layer blastomeres appeared to have occurred.

** Archenteron failed to segment into a tripartite tract, resulting in the formation of an incomplete gut.



We are grateful to members of Otsuchi Marine Research Center of the University of Tokyo for supplying the materials. This work was financially supported by Grant-in-Aids from the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture of Japan (09839009, 12640676), and by funds from the cooperative program (No.110, 2000) provided by the Otsuchi Marine Research Center, Ocean Research Institute, University of Tokyo to S. A. This study was carried out as a part of Ground Research Announcement for Space Utilization promoted by the Japan Space forum.



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Minoru Iijima and Shonan Amemiya "Potential of veg2 Blastomeres to Induce Endoderm Differentiation in Sea Urchin Embryos," Zoological Science 19(1), 81-85, (1 January 2002).
Received: 28 August 2001; Accepted: 1 October 2001; Published: 1 January 2002

cell-cell interaction
echinoid development
gastrulation mode
veg2 blastomere
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