Neural induction in Xenopus requires early FGF signalling in addition to BMP inhibition

Development. 2005 Jan;132(2):299-310. doi: 10.1242/dev.01582. Epub 2004 Dec 8.


Neural induction constitutes the first step in the generation of the vertebrate nervous system from embryonic ectoderm. Work with Xenopus ectodermal explants has suggested that epidermis is induced by BMP signals, whereas neural fates arise by default following BMP inhibition. In amniotes and ascidians, however, BMP inhibition does not appear to be sufficient for neural fate acquisition, which is initiated by FGF signalling. We decided to re-evaluate in the context of the whole embryo the roles of the BMP and FGF pathways during neural induction in Xenopus. We find that ectopic BMP activity converts the neural plate into epidermis, confirming that this pathway must be inhibited during neural induction in vivo. Conversely, inhibition of BMP, or of its intracellular effector SMAD1 in the non-neural ectoderm leads to epidermis suppression. In no instances, however, is BMP/SMAD1 inhibition sufficient to elicit neural induction in ventral ectoderm. By contrast, we find that neural specification occurs when weak eFGF or low ras signalling are combined with BMP inhibition. Using all available antimorphic FGF receptors (FGFR), as well as the pharmacological FGFR inhibitor SU5402, we demonstrate that pre-gastrula FGF signalling is required in the ectoderm for the emergence of neural fates. Finally, we show that although the FGF pathway contributes to BMP inhibition, as in other model systems, it is also essential for neural induction in vivo and in animal caps in a manner that cannot be accounted for by simple BMP inhibition. Taken together, our results reveal that in contrast to predictions from the default model, BMP inhibition is required but not sufficient for neural induction in vivo. This work contributes to the emergence of a model whereby FGF functions as a conserved initiator of neural specification among chordates.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bone Morphogenetic Proteins / metabolism*
  • Carrier Proteins
  • Ectoderm / metabolism
  • Embryo, Nonmammalian / metabolism
  • Epidermis / metabolism
  • Fibroblast Growth Factors / metabolism*
  • Gastrula / metabolism
  • In Situ Hybridization
  • Mesoderm / metabolism
  • Models, Biological
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Proteins / metabolism
  • Pyrroles / pharmacology
  • Signal Transduction
  • Time Factors
  • Tissue Distribution
  • Xenopus / metabolism*


  • Bone Morphogenetic Proteins
  • Carrier Proteins
  • Proteins
  • Pyrroles
  • SU 5402
  • noggin protein
  • Fibroblast Growth Factors