Morphogen gradients provide positional cues for cell fate specification and tissue patterning during embryonic development. One important aspect of morphogen function, the mechanism by which long-range signalling occurs, is still poorly understood. In Xenopus, members of the TGF-beta family such as the nodal-related proteins and activin act as morphogens to induce mesoderm and endoderm. In an effort to understand the mechanisms and dynamics of morphogen gradient formation, we have used fluorescently labelled activin to study ligand distribution and Smad2/Smad4 bimolecular fluorescence complementation (BiFC) to analyse, in a quantitative manner, the cellular response to induction. Our results indicate that labelled activin travels exclusively through the extracellular space and that its range is influenced by numbers of type II activin receptors on responding cells. Inhibition of endocytosis, by means of a dominant-negative form of Rab5, blocks internalisation of labelled activin, but does not affect the ability of cells to respond to activin and does not significantly influence signalling range. Together, our data indicate that long-range signalling in the early Xenopus embryo, in contrast to some other developmental systems, occurs through extracellular movement of ligand. Signalling range is not regulated by endocytosis, but is influenced by numbers of cognate receptors on the surfaces of responding cells.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: After activation by Wnt/β-Catenin ligands, a multi-protein complex assembles at the clustering membrane-bound receptors and intracellular signal transducers into the so-called Lrp6-signalosome. However, the mechanism of signalosome formation and dissolution is yet not clear. Our imaging studies of live zebrafish embryos show that the signalosome is a highly dynamic structure. It is continuously assembled by Dvl2-mediated recruitment of the transducer complex to the activated receptors and partially disassembled by endocytosis. We find that, after internalization, the ligand-receptor complex and the transducer complex take separate routes. The Wnt-Fz-Lrp6 complex follows a Rab-positive endocytic path. However, when still bound to the transducer complex, Dvl2 forms intracellular aggregates. We show that this endocytic process is not only essential for ligand-receptor internalization but also for signaling. The μ2-subunit of the endocytic Clathrin adaptor Ap2 interacts with Dvl2 to maintain its stability during endocytosis. Blockage of Ap2μ2 function leads to Dvl2 degradation, inhibiton of signalosome formation at the plasma membrane and, consequently, reduction of signaling. We conclude that Ap2μ2-mediated endocytosis is important to maintain Wnt/β-catenin signaling in vertebrates.
"This internalization results in clearance of ligand from the extracellular space and is thought to be a major regulator of signal stability. For example, overexpression of a receptor of the TGFβ ligand Activin increases the frequency of Activin internalization (Hagemann et al. 2009). The accompanying decrease in signaling range may be caused by the decreased stability of Activin or the sequestration of Activin by its receptor. "
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Extracellular signaling molecules have crucial roles in development and homeostasis, and their incorrect deployment can lead to developmental defects and disease states. Signaling molecules are released from sending cells, travel to target cells, and act over length scales of several orders of magnitude, from morphogen-mediated patterning of small developmental fields to hormonal signaling throughout the organism. We discuss how signals are modified and assembled for transport, which routes they take to reach their targets, and how their range is affected by mobility and stability.
"In contrast, only a handful studies have used the technology for the visualization of protein interactions in animal model organisms. In vertebrates, BiFC has been performed in Xenopus laevis and Danio rerio to visualize the nuclear translocation of a Smad2/Smad4 complex in embryonic explants [15,16] or embryos , respectively. In invertebrates, BiFC was used to reveal interactions between proteins of gap junctions  or between leucine zipper polypeptides  in Caenorabditis elegans and between odorant receptors , actin nucleation proteins  or transcription factors  in Drosophila melanogaster. "
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Protein interactions control the regulatory networks underlying developmental processes. The understanding of developmental complexity will, therefore, require the characterization of protein interactions within their proper environment. The bimolecular fluorescence complementation (BiFC) technology offers this possibility as it enables the direct visualization of protein interactions in living cells. However, its potential has rarely been applied in embryos of animal model organisms and was only performed under transient protein expression levels.
Using a Hox protein partnership as a test case, we investigated the suitability of BiFC for the study of protein interactions in the living Drosophila embryo. Importantly, all BiFC parameters were established with constructs that were stably expressed under the control of endogenous promoters. Under these physiological conditions, we showed that BiFC is specific and sensitive enough to analyse dynamic protein interactions. We next used BiFC in a candidate interaction screen, which led to the identification of several Hox protein partners.
Our results establish the general suitability of BiFC for revealing and studying protein interactions in their physiological context during the rapid course of Drosophila embryonic development.
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