It has long been appreciated that the inheritance of maternal cytoplasmic determinants from different regions of the egg can lead to differential specification of blastomeres during cleavage. Localized RNAs are important determinants of cell fate in eggs and embryos but are also recognized as fundamental regulators of cell structure and function. This chapter summarizes recent molecular and genetic experiments regarding: (1) mechanisms that regulate polarity during different stages of vertebrate oogenesis, (2) pathways that localize presumptive protein and RNA determinants within the polarized oocyte and egg, and (3) how these determinants act in the embryo to determine the ultimate cell fates. Emphasis is placed on studies done in Xenopus, where extensive work has been done in these areas, and comparisons are drawn with fish and mammals. The prospects for future work using in vivo genome manipulation and other postgenomic approaches are also discussed.
Keywords: Cell fate specification; Cell polarity; Oogenesis; Vertebrate development; Xenopus; mRNA localization.
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