Developmental biology

Asymmetric distribution of PAR proteins in the mouse embryo begins at the 8-cell stage during compaction.

PMID 15950600


In many organisms, like Caenorhabditis elegans and Drosophila melanogaster, establishment of spatial patterns and definition of cell fate are driven by the segregation of determinants in response to spatial cues, as early as oogenesis or fertilization. In these organisms, a family of conserved proteins, the PAR proteins, is involved in the asymmetric distribution of cytoplasmic determinants and in the control of asymmetric divisions. In the mouse embryo, it is only at the 8-cell stage during compaction that asymmetries, leading to cellular diversification and blastocyst morphogenesis, are first observed. However, it has been suggested that developmentally relevant asymmetries could be established already in the oocyte and during fertilization. This led us to study the PAR proteins during the early stages of mouse development. We observed that the homologues of the different members of the PAR/aPKC complex and PAR1 are expressed in the preimplantation mouse embryo. During the first embryonic cleavages, before compaction, PARD6b and EMK1 are observed on the spindle. The localization of these two proteins becomes asymmetric during compaction, when blastomeres flatten upon each other and polarize. PARD6b is targeted to the apical pole, whereas EMK1 is distributed along the baso-lateral domain. The targeting of EMK1 is dependent upon cell-cell interactions while the apical localization of PARD6b is independent of cell contacts. At the 16-cell stage, aPKCzeta colocalizes with PARD6b and a colocalization of the three proteins (PARD6b/PARD3/aPKCzeta can occur in blastocysts, only at tight junctions. This choreography suggests that proteins of the PAR family are involved in the setting up of blastomere polarity and blastocyst morphogenesis in the early mammalian embryo although the interactions between the different players differ from previously studied systems. Finally, they reinforce the idea that the first developmentally relevant asymmetries are set up during compaction.