Gastrulation is a critical early morphogenetic process of animal development, during which the three germ layers; mesoderm, endoderm and ectoderm, are rearranged by internalization movements. Concurrent epiboly movements spread and thin the germ layers while convergence and extension movements shape them into an anteroposteriorly elongated body with head, trunk, tail and organ rudiments. In zebrafish, gastrulation follows the proliferative and inductive events that establish the embryonic and extraembryonic tissues and the embryonic axis. Specification of these tissues and embryonic axes are controlled by the maternal gene products deposited in the egg. These early maternally controlled processes need to generate sufficient cell numbers and establish the embryonic polarity to ensure normal gastrulation. Subsequently, after activation of the zygotic genome, the zygotic gene products govern mesoderm and endoderm induction and germ layer patterning. Gastrulation is initiated during the maternal-to-zygotic transition, a process that entails both activation of the zygotic genome and downregulation of the maternal transcripts. Genomic studies indicate that gastrulation is largely controlled by the zygotic genome. Nonetheless, genetic studies that investigate the relative contributions of maternal and zygotic gene function by comparing zygotic, maternal and maternal zygotic mutant phenotypes, reveal significant contribution of maternal gene products, transcripts and/or proteins, that persist through gastrulation, to the control of gastrulation movements. Therefore, in zebrafish, the maternally expressed gene products not only set the stage for, but they also actively participate in gastrulation morphogenesis.
Keywords: Convergence; Epiboly; Extension; Genetic screens; Germ layers; Internalization; Maternal-to-zygotic transition; Morphogenesis; Zygotic genome activation.
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