Analysis of forkhead and snail expression reveals epithelial-mesenchymal transitions during embryonic and larval development of Nematostella vectensis

Dev Biol. 2004 Nov 15;275(2):389-402. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2004.08.014.


The winged helix transcription factor Forkhead and the zinc finger transcription factor Snail are crucially involved in germ layer formation in Bilateria. Here, we isolated and characterized a homolog of forkhead/HNF3 (FoxA/group 1) and of snail from a diploblast, the sea anemone Nematostella vectensis. We show that Nematostella forkhead expression starts during late Blastula stage in a ring of cells that demarcate the blastopore margin during early gastrulation, thereby marking the boundary between ectodermal and endodermal tissue. snail, by contrast, is expressed in a complementary pattern in the center of forkhead-expressing cells marking the presumptive endodermal cells fated to ingress during gastrulation. In a significant portion of early gastrulating embryos, forkhead is expressed asymmetrically around the blastopore. While snail-expressing cells form the endodermal cell mass, forkhead marks the pharynx anlage throughout embryonic and larval development. In the primary polyp, forkhead remains expressed in the pharynx. The detailed analysis of forkhead and snail expression during Nematostella embryonic and larval development further suggests that endoderm formation results from epithelial invagination, mesenchymal immigration, and reorganization of the endodermal epithelial layer, that is, by epithelial-mesenchymal transitions (EMT) in combination with extensive morphogenetic movements. snail also governs EMT at different processes during embryonic development in Bilateria. Our data indicate that the function of snail in Diploblasts is to regulate motility and cell adhesion, supporting that the triggering of changes in cell behavior is the ancestral role of snail in Metazoa.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation / physiology*
  • DNA Primers
  • DNA, Complementary / genetics
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism*
  • Epithelial Cells / cytology
  • Forkhead Transcription Factors
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental*
  • In Situ Hybridization
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Mesoderm / cytology
  • Models, Genetic
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Nuclear Proteins / genetics
  • Nuclear Proteins / metabolism*
  • Phylogeny
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Sea Anemones / embryology*
  • Sequence Alignment
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Snail Family Transcription Factors
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism*


  • DNA Primers
  • DNA, Complementary
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Forkhead Transcription Factors
  • Nuclear Proteins
  • Snail Family Transcription Factors
  • Transcription Factors