Molecular bases of early neural development in Xenopus embryos

Annu Rev Neurosci. 1992;15:251-84. doi: 10.1146/


Genes that are differentially expressed in the ectoderm as it diverts along the neural and epidermal pathways of differentiation can be used to study the inducing signals underlying induction as well as how ectoderm responds to these signals by forming neural tissue. Although these genes have provided, and will continue to provide, new information about the induction process, they are not likely to provide the whole story. For example, Notch is a gene required for neurogenesis in Drosophila embryos. When the Notch gene product is absent, the embryo forms far too many neuroblasts at the expense of the hypodermal cell layer (Artavanis-Tsakonis 1988, Campos-Ortega 1988). Even though Notch appears to play a role in deciding the fate of neural/hypodermal cells, the Notch gene product is expressed ubiquitously in early embryos in the neurogenic region (Hartley et al 1987, Kidd et al 1989). Thus, one possibility is that Notch function does not necessarily depend on differential expression of the Notch gene product within cells in the neurogenic regions [although an alternative view has been suggested by Greenspan (1990)]. Thus, some of the molecules controlling early neural development may not be expressed differentially when the ectoderm forms the neural plate. Obviously, other approaches will have to be taken to isolate and characterize these molecules. In this light, it is noteworthy that a molecule has been identified in Xenopus that is remarkably similar to Drosophila Notch in both structure and developmental expression (Coffman et al 1990). One hope is that the analysis of this molecule in combination with the molecules that are differentially expressed during neural induction will eventually lead to a molecular understanding of early neural development in vertebrate embryos.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Embryo, Nonmammalian / physiology*
  • Nervous System / embryology*
  • Xenopus / growth & development*