Thalidomide is a drug that is well known for its teratogenic properties in humans. Surprisingly, thalidomide does not have teratogenic effects on mouse development. We investigated the effect of thalidomide on patterning in hydra, an early metazoan with a very simple axial symmetry. Hydra develops asexually via Wnt-dependent organizer formation, leading to the budding of a new organism. We observe both induction and inhibition of organizer formation depending on cellular context. Interestingly, thalidomide treatment altered budding and the developing organizer, but had little effect on the adult. Expression of Hybra1, a marker of the organizer increased upon thalidomide treatment. However when the organizer is induced by ectopic activation of Wnt signaling via GSK3 inhibition, thalidomide suppresses induction. We show that inhibition of Wnt signaling is not mediated by induction of the BMP pathway. We show that thalidomide activity on organizer formation in hydra depends on the activity of casein kinase1 and the abundance of β-catenin. Finally, we find that interstitial cells, multipotent cells which give rise to nemoatocytes, neural, digestive and germline cells, are partially responsible for the inhibitory effect of thalidomide.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-63
Number of pages13
JournalDevelopmental Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2013


  • Hydra
  • Organizer formation
  • Patterning
  • Teratogenic
  • Thalidomide
  • Wnt signaling


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