Developmental biology

Downstream of FGF during mesoderm formation in Xenopus: the roles of Elk-1 and Egr-1.

PMID 19799892


Signalling by members of the FGF family is required for induction and maintenance of the mesoderm during amphibian development. One of the downstream effectors of FGF is the SRF-interacting Ets family member Elk-1, which, after phosphorylation by MAP kinase, activates the expression of immediate-early genes. Here, we show that Xenopus Elk-1 is phosphorylated in response to FGF signalling in a dynamic pattern throughout the embryo. Loss of XElk-1 function causes reduced expression of Xbra at neurula stages, followed by a failure to form notochord and muscle and then the partial loss of trunk structures. One of the genes regulated by XElk-1 is XEgr-1, which encodes a zinc finger transcription factor: we show that phosphorylated XElk-1 forms a complex with XSRF that binds to the XEgr-1 promoter. Superficially, Xenopus tropicalis embryos with reduced levels of XEgr-1 resemble those lacking XElk-1, but to our surprise, levels of Xbra are elevated at late gastrula stages in such embryos, and over-expression of XEgr-1 causes the down-regulation of Xbra both in whole embryos and in animal pole regions treated with activin or FGF. In contrast, the myogenic regulatory factor XMyoD is activated by XEgr-1 in a direct manner. We discuss these counterintuitive results in terms of the genetic regulatory network to which XEgr-1 contributes.