Gastrulation in the sea anemone Nematostella vectensis occurs by invagination and immigration: an ultrastructural study

Dev Genes Evol. 2006 Mar;216(3):119-32. doi: 10.1007/s00427-005-0038-3. Epub 2006 Jan 14.


The sea anemone Nematostella vectensis has recently been established as a new model system for the understanding of the evolution of developmental processes. In particular, the evolutionary origin of gastrulation and its molecular regulation are the subject of intense investigation. However, while molecular data are rapidly accumulating, no detailed morphological data exist describing the process of gastrulation. Here, we carried out an ultrastructural study of different stages of gastrulation in Nematostella using transmission electron microscope and scanning electron microscopy techniques. We show that presumptive endodermal cells undergo a change in cell shape, reminiscent of the bottle cells known from vertebrates and several invertebrates. Presumptive endodermal cells organize into a field, the pre-endodermal plate, which undergoes invagination. In parallel, the endodermal cells decrease their apical cell contacts but remain loosely attached to each other. Hence, during early gastrulation they display an incomplete epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT). At a late stage of gastrulation, the cells eventually detach and fill the interior of the blastocoel as mesenchymal cells. This shows that gastrulation in Nematostella occurs by a combination of invagination and late immigration involving EMT. The comparison with molecular expression studies suggests that cells expressing snailA undergo EMT and become endodermal, whereas forkhead/brachyury expressing cells at the ectodermal margin of the blastopore retain their epithelial integrity throughout gastrulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blastoderm / cytology
  • Blastoderm / ultrastructure
  • Cell Movement / physiology*
  • Embryo, Nonmammalian
  • Embryonic Development / physiology
  • Embryonic Structures / ultrastructure
  • Endoderm / cytology
  • Endoderm / ultrastructure
  • Gastrula / ultrastructure*
  • Models, Biological
  • Sea Anemones / embryology
  • Sea Anemones / ultrastructure*