In higher vertebrates, the paraxial mesoderm undergoes a mesenchymal to epithelial transformation to form segmentally organised structures called somites. Experiments have shown that signals originating from the ectoderm overlying the somites or from midline structures are required for the formation of the somites, but their identity has yet to be determined. Wnt6 is a good candidate as a somite epithelialisation factor from the ectoderm since it is expressed in this tissue. In this study, we show that injection of Wnt6-producing cells beneath the ectoderm at the level of the segmental plate or lateral to the segmental plate leads to the formation of numerous small epithelial somites. Ectopic expression of Wnt6 leads to sustained expression of markers associated with the epithelial somites and reduced or delayed expression of markers associated with mesenchymally organised somitic tissue. More importantly, we show that Wnt6-producing cells are able to rescue somite formation after ectoderm ablation. Furthermore, injection of Wnt6-producing cells following the isolation of the neural tube/notochord from the segmental plate was able to rescue somite formation at both the structural (epithelialisation) and molecular level, as determined by the expression of marker genes like Paraxis or Pax-3. We show that Wnts are indeed responsible for the epithelialisation of somites by applying Wnt antagonists, which result in the segmental plate being unable to form somites. These results show that Wnt6, the only known member of this family to be localised to the chick paraxial ectoderm, is able to regulate the development of epithelial somites and that cellular organisation is pivotal in the execution of the differentiation programmes. We propose a model in which the localisation of Wnt6 and its antagonists regulates the process of epithelialisation in the paraxial mesoderm.

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Keywords Epithelialisation, Mesoderm, Vertebrate
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Journal Developmental Biology
Schmidt, C. (Corina), Stoeckelhuber, M. (Mechthild), McKinnell, I.W, Putz, R. (Reinhard), Christ, B. (Bodo), & Patel, K. (Ketan). (2004). Wnt 6 regulates the epithelialisation process of the segmental plate mesoderm leading to somite formation. Developmental Biology, 271(1), 198–209. doi:10.1016/j.ydbio.2004.03.016