The MAPK cascade in equally cleaving spiralian embryos

J. David Lambert, Lisa M. Nagy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Scopus citations


Spiralian development is shared by several protostome phyla and characterized by regularities in early cleavage, fate map, and larva. Experimental evidence from multiple spiralian species implicates cells in the D quadrant lineage as the organizer of future axial development of the embryo. However, the mechanisms by which the D quadrant is specified differ between species with equal and unequal spiral cleavage. Equally cleaving mollusc embryos establish the D quadrant via cell-cell interactions between the micromeres and macromeres at the 24- to 36-cell stage. In unequally cleaving embryos, the D quadrant is established at the 4-cell stage via asymmetries in the first 2 cell divisions. We have begun to explore the molecular mechanisms of D quadrant patterning in spiralians. Previously, we showed that, in the unequally cleaving embryo of the mollusc Ilyanassa obsoleta, the MAPK pathway is activated and functionally required in 3D and also in the micromeres known to require a signal from 3D. Here, we examine the role of MAPK signaling in 4 spiralians with equal cleavage. In 3 equally cleaving molluscs, the chiton Chaetopleura, the limpet Tectura, and the snail Lymnaea, the MAPK pathway is activated in the 3D cell but not in the overlying micromeres. In the equally cleaving embryo of the polychaete annelid Hydroides, MAPK activation was not detected in the 3D macromere but was observed in one of its daughter cells, 4d. In addition, inhibiting Tectura MAPK activation disrupts differentiation of 3D and cells induced by it, supporting a functional role for MAPK in axis specification in equally cleaving spiralians. Thus, MAPK signaling may have a conserved role in the D quadrant organizer cell 3D in molluscs. However, there have been at least 2 evolutionary changes in the activation of the MAPK pathway during spiralian evolution. MAPK function in the Ilyanassa micromeres is a recent cooption and, since the divergence of annelids and molluscs, there has been a shift in onset of MAPK activation between 3D and 4d. We propose that this latter shift correlates with a change in the timing of specification of the secondary embryonic axis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)231-241
Number of pages11
JournalDevelopmental biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Nov 15 2003


  • Annelid
  • Heterochrony
  • Induction
  • MAP kinase
  • Mesendoderm
  • Mollusc

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Cell Biology


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