A new study by Vanderbilt researchers reveals that prostaglandins help choreograph the intricate cell movements during early embryonic development in zebrafish, highlighting how perturbations in this pathway might influence human development and the spread of cancer. The results also may point to new molecular targets for cancer prevention therapies.
The findings, published January 1 in the journal Genes and Development, result from a cross-campus collaboration between the labs of Raymond DuBois, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center and B.F. Byrd Jr. Professor of Molecular Oncology, and Lilianna Solnica-Krezel, Ph.D., professor of Biological Sciences.
Early in development, vertebrate embryos consist of one layer of cells. These simple embryos must go through a complex reorganization called gastrulation to establish the three primitive layers from which all adult tissues develop the innermost layer (endoderm), which forms the gut and associated digestive organs; the middle layer (mesoderm), which develops into muscle, bone and cardiovascular organs, and the outer layer (ectoderm), which becomes the skin and nervous system.
"The body is a tube in a tube in a shell," Solnica-Krezel explained. "Before gastrulation, all of these prospective tubes are at the surface of the embryo. Gastrulation puts these different tissue precursors inside the embryo and gives them a proper shape."
But little is known about the chemical signals that cause these cells to move. Previous studies in mice and zebrafish suggested that prostaglandins were important in development. Mice lacking an enzyme that synthesizes prostaglandin had numerous developmental defects, but the true effects of prostaglandins on the embryo were likely obscured by maternal prostaglandin production.