In vertebrate gastrula/neurula embryos, a cilia-driven leftward flow asymmetrically activates the Nodal cascade in the left lateral plate mesoderm (LPM). In frog embryos left-right axis formation was postulated to depend on gap junctions (GJs) during cleavage. Here, we show that GJs cooperate with fibroblast growth factor-8 (FGF8) to specify asymmetric Nodal in the rabbit embryo at gastrula/neurula. GJs and FGF signaling were manipulated in whole embryo and explant cultures of rabbit blastodiscs. These experiments demonstrate that right-sided inhibition of Nodal by FGF8 depended on intercellular communication by means of GJs, and that left-sided induction of Nodal required attenuation of gap junctional communication (GJC). Before flow, the left and right side were equally competent but actively prevented from Nodal induction through FGF8/GJ. Our data suggest that flow unilaterally attenuates FGF8/GJ-mediated repression of Nodal on the left side, integrating GJC and FGF8 into the flow-based mechanism of symmetry breakage in the vertebrate embryo.
(c) 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.