Gap junctional communication in the early Xenopus embryo

J Cell Biol. 2000 Aug 21;150(4):929-36. doi: 10.1083/jcb.150.4.929.


In the Xenopus embryo, blastomeres are joined by gap junctions that allow the movement of small molecules between neighboring cells. Previous studies using Lucifer yellow (LY) have reported asymmetries in the patterns of junctional communication suggesting involvement in dorso-ventral patterning. To explore that relationship, we systematically compared the transfer of LY and neurobiotin in embryos containing 16-128 cells. In all cases, the junction-permeable tracer was coinjected with a fluorescent dextran that cannot pass through gap junctions. Surprisingly, while LY appeared to transfer in whole-mount embryos, in no case did we observe junctional transfer of LY in fixed and sectioned embryos. The lack of correspondence between data obtained from whole-mounts and from sections results from two synergistic effects. First, uninjected blastomeres in whole-mounts reflect and scatter light originating from the intensely fluorescent injected cell, creating a diffuse background interpretable as dye transfer. Second, the heavier pigmentation in ventral blastomeres masks this scattered signal, giving the impression of an asymmetry in communication. Thus, inspection of whole-mount embryos is an unreliable method for the assessment of dye transfer between embryonic blastomeres. A rigorous and unambiguous demonstration of gap junctional intercellular communication demands both the coinjection of permeant and impermeant tracers followed by the examination of sectioned specimens. Whereas LY transfer was never observed, neurobiotin was consistently transferred in both ventral and dorsal aspects of the embryo, with no apparent asymmetry. Ventralization of embryos by UV irradiation and dorsalization by Xwnt-8 did not alter the patterns of communication. Thus, our results are not compatible with current models for a role of gap junctional communication in dorso-ventral patterning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biotin / analogs & derivatives
  • Blastomeres / cytology
  • Blastomeres / physiology*
  • Blastomeres / ultrastructure
  • Cell Communication / physiology*
  • Cytoplasm / physiology
  • Cytoplasm / ultrastructure
  • Embryo, Nonmammalian / cytology
  • Embryo, Nonmammalian / physiology*
  • Embryo, Nonmammalian / ultrastructure
  • Gap Junctions / physiology*
  • Gap Junctions / ultrastructure
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • Transcription, Genetic
  • Xenopus laevis / embryology*


  • RNA, Messenger
  • neurobiotin
  • Biotin