Gastrulation is the period of development when the three germ layers, mesoderm, endoderm and ectoderm, are not only formed, but also shaped into a rudimentary body plan. An elongated anteroposterior (AP) axis is a key feature of all vertebrate body plans, and it forms during gastrulation through the highly conserved morphogenetic mechanism of convergence & extension (C&E). As the name suggests, this process requires that cells within each germ layer converge toward the dorsal midline to narrow the tissue in the mediolateral (ML) dimension and concomitantly extend it in the AP dimension. In a number of vertebrate species, C&E is driven primarily by mediolateral intercalation behavior (MIB), during which cells elongate, align, and extend protrusions in the ML direction and interdigitate between their neighbors. MIB is only one of many complex cellular mechanisms that contributes to C&E in zebrafish embryos, however, where a combination of individual cell migration, collective migration, random walk, radial intercalation, epiboly movements, and MIB all act together to shape the nascent germ layers. Each of these diverse cell movements is driven by a distinct suite of dynamic cellular properties/activities, such as actin-rich protrusions, myosin contractility, and blebbing. Here, we discuss the spatiotemporal patterns of cellular behaviors underlying C&E gastrulation movements within each germ layer of zebrafish embryos. These behaviors must be coordinated with the embryonic axes, and we highlight the roles of Planar Cell Polarity (PCP) in orienting and BMP signaling in patterning C&E cell behaviors with respect to the AP and dorsoventral axes. Finally, we address the role of GPCR signaling, extracellular matrix, and mechanical signals in coordination of C&E movements between adjacent germ layers.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGastrulation
Subtitle of host publicationFrom Embryonic Pattern to Form
EditorsLilianna Solnica-Krezel
PublisherAcademic Press Inc.
Number of pages31
ISBN (Print)9780128127988
StatePublished - 2020

Publication series

NameCurrent Topics in Developmental Biology
ISSN (Print)0070-2153


  • Axis extension
  • Cell intercalation
  • Cell migration
  • GPCR
  • Gastrulation
  • Germ layers
  • Morphogenesis
  • Nodal
  • PCP
  • Planar cell polarity


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