Background: FGF signalling regulates numerous aspects of early embryo development. During gastrulation in amniotes, epiblast cells undergo an epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) in the primitive streak to form the mesoderm and endoderm. In mice lacking FGFR1, epiblast cells in the primitive streak fail to downregulate E-cadherin and undergo EMT, and cell migration is inhibited. This study investigated how FGF signalling regulates cell movement and gene expression in the primitive streak of chicken embryos.
Results: We find that pharmacological inhibition of FGFR activity blocks migration of cells through the primitive streak of chicken embryos without apparent alterations in the level or intracellular localization of E-cadherin. E-cadherin protein is localized to the periphery of epiblast, primitive streak and some mesodermal cells. FGFR inhibition leads to downregulation of a large number of regulatory genes in the preingression epiblast adjacent to the primitive streak, the primitive streak and the newly formed mesoderm. This includes members of the FGF, NOTCH, EPH, PDGF, and canonical and non-canonical WNT pathways, negative modulators of these pathways, and a large number of transcriptional regulatory genes. SNAI2 expression in the primitive streak and mesoderm is not altered by FGFR inhibition, but is downregulated only in the preingression epiblast region with no significant effect on E-cadherin. Furthermore, over expression of SNAIL has no discernable effect on E-cadherin protein levels or localization in epiblast, primitive streak or mesodermal cells. FGFR activity modulates distinct downstream pathways including RAS/MAPK and PI3K/AKT. Pharmacological inhibition of MEK or AKT indicate that these downstream effectors control discrete and overlapping groups of genes during gastrulation. FGFR activity regulates components of several pathways known to be required for cell migration through the streak or in the mesoderm, including RHOA, the non-canonical WNT pathway, PDGF signalling and the cell adhesion protein N-cadherin.
Conclusions: In chicken embryos, FGF signalling regulates cell movement through the primitive streak by mechanisms that appear to be independent of changes in E-cadherin expression or protein localization. The positive and negative effects on large groups of genes by pharmacological inhibition of FGF signalling, including major signalling pathways and transcription factor families, indicates that the FGF pathway is a focal point of regulation during gastrulation in chicken.