Genome-wide analysis of the skeletogenic gene regulatory network of sea urchins.

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Abstract or Description

A central challenge of developmental and evolutionary biology is to understand the transformation of genetic information into morphology. Elucidating the connections between genes and anatomy will require model morphogenetic processes that are amenable to detailed analysis of cell/tissue behaviors and to systems-level approaches to gene regulation. The formation of the calcified endoskeleton of the sea urchin embryo is a valuable experimental system for developing such an integrated view of the genomic regulatory control of morphogenesis. A transcriptional gene regulatory network (GRN) that underlies the specification of skeletogenic cells (primary mesenchyme cells, or PMCs) has recently been elucidated. In this study, we carried out a genome-wide analysis of mRNAs encoded by effector genes in the network and uncovered transcriptional inputs into many of these genes. We used RNA-seq to identify >400 transcripts differentially expressed by PMCs during gastrulation, when these cells undergo a striking sequence of behaviors that drives skeletal morphogenesis. Our analysis expanded by almost an order of magnitude the number of known (and candidate) downstream effectors that directly mediate skeletal morphogenesis. We carried out genome-wide analysis of (1) functional targets of Ets1 and Alx1, two pivotal, early transcription factors in the PMC GRN, and (2) functional targets of MAPK signaling, a pathway that plays an essential role in PMC specification. These studies identified transcriptional inputs into >200 PMC effector genes. Our work establishes a framework for understanding the genomic regulatory control of a major morphogenetic process and has important implications for reconstructing the evolution of biomineralization in metazoans.




Published In

Development, 141, 4, 950-961.