Early Xenopus gene regulatory programs, chromatin states, and the role of maternal transcription factors

Curr Top Dev Biol. 2020;139:35-60. doi: 10.1016/bs.ctdb.2020.02.009. Epub 2020 Apr 6.


For decades, the early development of the Xenopus embryo has been an essential model system to study the gene regulatory mechanisms that govern cellular specification. At the top of the hierarchy of gene regulatory networks, maternally deposited transcription factors initiate this process and regulate the expression of zygotic genes that give rise to three distinctive germ layer cell types (ectoderm, mesoderm, and endoderm), and subsequent generation of organ precursors. The onset of germ layer specification is also closely coupled with changes associated with chromatin modifications. This review will examine the timing of maternal transcription factors initiating the zygotic genome activation, the epigenetic landscape of embryonic chromatin, and the network structure that governs the process.

Keywords: Cis-regulatory modules; Enhancers; Feed forward loop; Gene regulatory network; Germ layers; Maternal transcription factors; Promoters; Xenopus; Zygotic genome activation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chromatin / genetics*
  • Chromatin / metabolism
  • Embryo, Nonmammalian / cytology
  • Embryo, Nonmammalian / embryology
  • Embryo, Nonmammalian / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental*
  • Gene Regulatory Networks*
  • Maternal Inheritance / genetics*
  • Transcription Factors / genetics*
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Xenopus / classification
  • Xenopus / embryology
  • Xenopus / genetics*
  • Xenopus Proteins / genetics*
  • Xenopus Proteins / metabolism
  • Xenopus laevis / embryology
  • Xenopus laevis / genetics


  • Chromatin
  • Transcription Factors
  • Xenopus Proteins