Background: The Par-3/Par-6/aPKC complex is a key regulator of cell polarity in a number of systems. In Drosophila, this complex acts at the zonula adherens (adherens junctions) to establish epithelial polarity and helps to orient the mitotic spindle during asymmetric neuroblast divisions. In MDCKII cells, this complex localizes to the zonula occludens (tight junctions) and appears to regulate epithelial polarity. However, the in vivo role of this complex during vertebrate embryogenesis is not known, due to the lack of relevant mutations.
Results: We have positionally cloned the zebrafish heart and soul (has) mutation, which affects the morphogenesis of several embryonic tissues, and show that it encodes atypical protein kinase C lambda (aPKC lambda). We find that loss of aPKC lambda affects the formation and maintenance of the zonula adherens in the polarized epithelia of the retina, neural tube, and digestive tract, leading to novel phenotypes, such as the formation of multiple lumens in the developing intestine. In addition, has mutants display defects in gut looping and endodermal organ morphogenesis that appear to be independent of the defects in epithelial polarity. Finally, we show that loss of aPKC lambda leads to defects in spindle orientation during progenitor cell divisions in the neural retina.
Conclusions: Our results show that aPKC lambda is required for the formation and maintenance of the zonula adherens during early epithelial development in vertebrates and demonstrate a previously undescribed yet critical role for this protein in organ morphogenesis. Furthermore, our studies identify the first genetic locus regulating the orientation of cell division in vertebrates.