These first findings led Sasai to investigate possible interactions between NRH1 and genes involved in the Wnt/PCP (planar cell polarity) signaling pathway, which is also known to play an important role in the regulation of CE movements in both fish and frog through the activity of downstream small GTPases. This protein family, which includes Rho, Rac and Cdc42, interacts with the cytoskeleton and plays important roles in the dynamics of cell morphology and motility. Overexpression and loss-of-function of NRH1 in the marginal zone (where convergent extension originates) respectively resulted in increased and decreased Rho, Rac and Cdc42 activity, confirming the link between NRH1 and Rho-family small GTPases. Loss of NRH1 function could be rescued by the co-injection of Frz7, a Wnt receptor functioning upstream of Rho, Rac and Cdc42 in the PCP pathway and, similarly, NRH1 complemented a dominant-negative Frz7 phenotype, indicating the two proteins play compensatory and mutually independent roles in the activation of small GTPases.
Further experiments showed that NRH1's effects on CE movements are also mediated by a second branch of the Wnt/PCP pathway, in which MKK7 and JNK work to phosphorylate c-Jun in the animal cap (a region of prospective ectoderm located on the roof of the blastocoel, a hollow in the spherical early embryo). As with the small GTPases, the activation of the MKK7-JNK cascade could also be effected by either Frz7 or NRH1, but it was found that NRH1 functioned independently of Xdsh, another upstream regulator of Rho-family small GTP
Contact: Doug Sipp
RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology