Consistent left-right asymmetry requires specific ion currents. We characterize a novel laterality determinant in Xenopus laevis: the ATP-sensitive K(+)-channel (K(ATP)). Expression of specific dominant-negative mutants of the Xenopus Kir6.1 pore subunit of the K(ATP) channel induced randomization of asymmetric organ positioning. Spatio-temporally controlled loss-of-function experiments revealed that the K(ATP) channel functions asymmetrically in LR patterning during very early cleavage stages, and also symmetrically during the early blastula stages, a period when heretofore largely unknown events transmit LR patterning cues. Blocking K(ATP) channel activity randomizes the expression of the left-sided transcription of Nodal. Immunofluorescence analysis revealed that XKir6.1 is localized to basal membranes on the blastocoel roof and cell-cell junctions. A tight junction integrity assay showed that K(ATP) channels are required for proper tight junction function in early Xenopus embryos. We also present evidence that this function may be conserved to the chick, as inhibition of K(ATP) in the primitive streak of chick embryos randomizes the expression of the left-sided gene Sonic hedgehog. We propose a model by which K(ATP) channels control LR patterning via regulation of tight junctions.
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