Nodal-related factors have been implicated in mesodermal and neural patterning, and left-right asymmetry, in mouse, frog, and chicken embryos. We describe the isolation and characterization of zebrafish nodal-related 2 (znr2). znr2 is expressed at low levels maternally, and zygotic transcripts localize to dorsal blastomeres at MBT. Slightly later, znr2 is also expressed dorsally in the extraembryonic yolk syncytial layer (YSL). During early gastrulation, znr2 expression expands to include deep and superficial cells in the entire marginal zone and YSL. During shield stages, expression is primarily localized to superficial noninvoluting cells of the organizer called dorsal forerunners. Znr2 misexpression in whole fish embryos expands or duplicates dorsoanterior and axial cell fates. Furthermore, Znr2 overexpression exclusively in the YSL, a region implicated in endogenous mesodermal induction, causes broadened or duplicated gsc expression in the overlying blastoderm. Functional comparison of Znr2 and another recently identified zebrafish nodal-related factor, Znr1/Cyclops, reveals distinct inductive properties of each ligand. Znr2 efficiently induces organizer-type dorsoanterior mesodermal and endodermal markers, but only weakly, if at all, neural markers. In contrast, while Znr1/Cyclops reproducibly induces mesodermal and neural markers, it is an inefficient inducer of organizer-type mesoderm. Our results suggest that znr2 encodes a robust mesendodermal inducer that signals nonautonomously during the earliest stages of embryonic patterning, and that part of this activity arises from within the YSL.
Copyright 1998 Academic Press.