A substance, present in an egg or blastomere, that determines the fate of those cells that inherit it during cleavage.
cleavage divisions that produce separate cells called blastomeres. Each blastomere inherits a certain region of the original egg cytoplasm, which may contain one or more regulatory substances called cytoplasmic determinants. When the embryo has become a solid mass of blastomeres (called a morula), it generally consists of two or more differently committed cell populations.
Nuclear and cytoplasmic determinants involved in the regulation of mammalian oocyte maturation
The requisite endpoint of mammalian oocyte maturation, whether in vivo or in vitro, is a metaphase II oocyte which is able to be fertilized and which can eventually support normal embryonic development. Oocytes which have been matured in vivo basically fulfill these criteria. On the other hand, a completely different situation exists when these cells are isolated from the ovaries and cultured in vitro. If they are too small (growing oocytes), they do not undergo maturation, or, if more advanced, will mature only to the metaphase I stage. Even in fully grown oocytes which are able to mature to metaphase II, the developmental potential after fertilization is disappointingly low, for reasons which remain unknown. The complexity of certain factors (nuclear, cytoplasmic or arising from our current culture systems) undoubtedly influences both the ability of oocytes to mature fully, as well as their developmental potential after fertilization.
A role for cytoplasmic determinants in mesoderm patterning: cell-autonomous activation of the goosecoid and Xwnt-8 genes along the dorsoventral axis of early Xenopus embryos
Although an induction event is required for the formation of mesoderm in Xenopus embryos, it is not clear that this induction is wholly sufficient to give rise to a correctly patterned mesodermal layer. We have studied the expression of the two genes, goosecoid and Xwnt-8, in Xenopus gastrulae in which cell-cell communication, and therefore mesoderm induction, has been prevented by frequent cell dispersion. Although neither the early panmesodermal marker Xbra nor the muscle-specific alpha-actin gene were activated under these conditions, goosecoid and Xwnt-8 were activated in cells of dorsal and ventrolateral origin respectively, thus correctly reflecting their distribution during normal development. We also show that the spatial pattern of expression of these two genes along the animal-vegetal axis is similar in normal and in dissociated early gastrulae: goosecoid is mainly expressed in future mesoderm while the domain of expression of Xwnt-8 spans the mesoderm-endoderm boundary. These results show that, during the blastula and early gastrula stages, gene activation can be controlled cell-autonomously along both the animal-vegetal and dorsoventral embryo axes. This suggests that the inheritance of localised maternal cytoplasmic determinants is a key event for the patterning of mesoderm. We present a modified model of mesoderm formation in which the different mesoderm cell types are produced as a result of cooperation between induction-dependent and induction-independent immediate-early genes.
Cytoplasmic determinants that specify the fate of endoderm, muscle and epidermis cells are known to be localized in specific areas of fertilized eggs of ascidians. The presence of such cytoplasmic determinants in unfertilized eggs was demonstrated in previous studies, but no information has yet been proved about their distribution. To investigate the distribution of cytoplasmic determinants in unfertilized eggs, we devised a method for distinguishing the polarity of unfertilized eggs using vital staining and we performed cytoplasmic-transfer experiments by fusing blastomeres and cytoplasmic fragments from various identified regions of unfertilized eggs. Cytoplasmic fragments, that contained cortical and subcortical material, from five different positions along the animal-vegetal axis were prepared, and they were fused with a4.2 (presumptive-epidermis) or A4.1 (non-epidermis) blastomeres. The ectopic development of endoderm, muscle and epidermis cells that was promoted by the transplanted cytoplasm was assessed by examining the expression of alkaline phosphatase (ALP), myosin and epidermis-specific antigen, respectively. Differentiation of endoderm and muscle was observed at higher frequencies as cytoplasmic fragments closer to the vegetal pole were transplanted. Conversely, formation of epidermis was observed at higher frequencies as cytoplasmic fragments closer to the animal pole were transplanted. The results suggest that, in cortical and subcortical regions of unfertilized ascidian eggs, endoderm and muscle determinants are widely distributed along a gradient, with maximum activity at the vegetal pole, whilst epidermis determinants are also distributed along a gradient but with maximum activity at the animal pole.