Gastrulation in the sea urchin

Curr Top Dev Biol. 2020:136:195-218. doi: 10.1016/bs.ctdb.2019.08.004. Epub 2019 Oct 22.


Gastrulation is arguably the most important evolutionary innovation in the animal kingdom. This process provides the basic embryonic architecture, an inner layer separated from an outer layer, from which all animal forms arise. An extraordinarily simple and elegant process of gastrulation is observed in the sea urchin embryo. The cells participating in sea urchin gastrulation are specified early during cleavage. One outcome of that specification is the expression of transcription factors that control each of the many subsequent morphogenetic changes. The first of these movements is an epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) of skeletogenic mesenchyme cells, then EMT of pigment cell progenitors. Shortly thereafter, invagination of the archenteron occurs. At the end of archenteron extension, a second wave of EMT occurs to release immune cells into the blastocoel and primordial germ cells that will home to the coelomic pouches. The archenteron then remodels to establish the three parts of the gut, and at the anterior end, the gut fuses with the stomodaeum to form the through-gut. As part of the anterior remodeling, mesodermal coelomic pouches bud off the lateral sides of the archenteron tip. Multiple cell biological processes conduct each of these movements and in some cases the upstream transcription factors controlling this process have been identified. Remarkably, each event seamlessly occurs at the right time to orchestrate formation of the primitive body plan. This review covers progress toward understanding many of the molecular mechanisms underlying this sequence of morphogenetic events.

Keywords: Convergent-extension; Epithelial-mesenchymal transition; Pigment cells; Primordial germ cells; Sea urchin; Wnt.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Movement
  • Embryo, Nonmammalian / cytology
  • Embryo, Nonmammalian / physiology*
  • Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition*
  • Gastrula / cytology
  • Gastrula / physiology*
  • Gastrulation*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Germ Cells
  • Morphogenesis*
  • Sea Urchins / embryology
  • Sea Urchins / physiology*
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism*


  • Transcription Factors