Background: The Brachyury (T) gene is required for the formation of posterior mesoderm and for axial development in both mouse and zebrafish embryos. In these species, and in Xenopus, the gene is expressed transiently throughout the presumptive mesoderm, and transcripts then persiste in notochord and posterior tissues. In Xenopus embryos, expression of the Xenopus homologue of Brachyury, Xbra, can be induced in presumptive ectoderm by basic fibroblast growth factor (FGF) and activin; in the absence of functional FGF or activin signalling pathways, expression of the gene is severely reduced. Ectopic expression of Xbra in presumptive ectoderm causes mesoderm to be formed. As Brachyury and its homologues encode sequence-specific DNA-binding proteins, it is likely that each functions by directly activating downstream mesoderm-specific genes.
Results: We show that expression in Xenopus embryos of RNA encoding a dominant-negative FGF receptor inhibits the mesoderm-inducing activity of Xbra. We demonstrate that ectopic expression of Xbra activates transcription of the embryonic FGF gene, and that embryonic FGF can induce expression of Xbra. This suggests that the two genes are components of a regulatory loop. Consistent with this idea, dissociation of Xbra-expressing cells causes a dramatic and rapid reduction in levels of Xbra, but the reduction can be inhibited by addition of FGF.
Conclusion: Formation of mesoderm tissue requires an intact FGF signalling pathway downstream of Brachyury. This requirement is due to a regulatory loop, in which Brachyury activates expression of a member of the FGF family, and FGF maintains expression of Brachyury.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)