Axis induction by Wnt signaling: Target promoter responsiveness regulates competence

Rachel S. Darken, Paul A. Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


The modulation of inductive competence is a major theme in embryonic development, but, in most cases, the underlying mechanisms are not well understood. In principle, the capacity of extracellular signals to elicit particular responses could be regulated by changes in cell surface receptors, in intracellular signaling pathways, or in the responsiveness of individual target gene promoters. As an example of regulated competence, we have examined dorsal axis induction in Xenopus embryos by Wnt signaling. Competence of Wnt proteins such as Xwnt-8 to induce an ectopic axis or the dorsal early response genes siamois and Xnr3 is lost by the onset of gastrulation, when these same ligands now produce a distinct set of "late" effects, including anterior truncation and induction of the midbrain/hindbrain marker engrailed-2. Although other Wnts apparently make use of alternative signaling mechanisms, we demonstrate that late-expressed Xwnt-8 continues to employ the canonical Wnt signaling pathway used earlier in dorsal axis induction, stabilizing cytosolic β-catenin, and activating gene expression through Tcf/Lef transcription factors. Moreover, an activated, hormone-inducible version of XTcf-3 (TVGR) that can reproduce both early and late Wnt responses when activated at appropriate stages becomes unable to induce siamois and secondary axes at the same time as Wnt ligands themselves. Finally, we show that TVGR also loses the ability to induce expression of a reporter construct containing a small fragment of the siamois promoter, implying that this fragment contains sequences governing the loss of Wnt responsiveness before gastrulation. Together, these results argue that the competence of Wnts to induce a dorsal axis is lost in the nucleus, as a result of changes in the responsiveness of target promoters.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)42-54
Number of pages13
JournalDevelopmental Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 1 2001


  • Axis induction
  • Competence
  • Siamois
  • Wnt pathway
  • Xenopus


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