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Characterization and Developmental Regulation of a Gene Expressed Specifically in the Skeletogenic Lineage of the Sea Urchin Embryo


Sucov, Henry Michael (1989) Characterization and Developmental Regulation of a Gene Expressed Specifically in the Skeletogenic Lineage of the Sea Urchin Embryo. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/zm4z-4942.


The sea urchin embryonic skeleton, or spicule, is deposited by mesenchymal progeny of four precursor cells, the micromeres, which are determined to the skeletogenic pathway by a process known as cytoplasmic localization. A gene encoding one of the major products of the skeletogenic mesenchyme, a prominent 50 kD protein of the spicule matrix, has been characterized in detail. cDNA clones were first isolated by antibody screening of a phage expression library, followed by isolation of homologous genomic clones. The gene, known as SM50, is single copy in the sea urchin genome, is divided into two exons of 213 and 1682 bp, and is expressed only in skeletogenic cells. Transcripts are first detectable at the 120 cell stage, shortly after the segregation of the skeletogenic precursors from the rest of the embryo. The SM50 open reading frame begins within the first exon, is 450 amino acids in length, and contains a loosely repeated 13 amino acid motif rich in acidic residues which accounts for 45% of the protein and which is possibly involved in interaction with the mineral phase of the spicule.

The important cis-acting regions of the SM50 gene necessary for proper regulation of expression were identified by gene transfer experiments. A 562 bp promoter fragment, containing 438 bp of 5' promoter sequence and 124 bp of the SM50 first exon (including the SM50 initiation codon), was both necessary and sufficient to direct high levels of expression of the bacterial chloramphenicol acetyltransferase (CAT) reporter gene specifically in the skeletogenic cells. Removal of promoter sequences between positions -2200 and -438, and of transcribed regions downstream of +124 (including the SM50 intron), had no effect on the spatial or transcriptional activity of the transgenes.

Regulatory proteins that interact with the SM50 promoter were identified by the gel retardation assay, using bulk embryo mesenchyme blastula stage nuclear proteins. Five protein binding sites were identified and mapped to various degrees of resolution. Two sites are homologous, may be enhancer elements, and at least one is required for expression. Two additional sites are also present in the promoter of the aboral ectoderm specific cytoskeletal actin gene CyIIIa; one of these is a CCAA T element, the other a putative repressor element. The fifth site overlaps the binding site of the putative repressor and may function as a positive regulator by interfering with binding of the repressor. All of the proteins are detectable in nuclear extracts prepared from 64 cell stage embryos, a stage just before expression of SM50 is initiated, as well as from blastula and gastrula stage; the putative enhancer binding protein may be maternal as well.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Biology; transgenic embryo; spicule; skeletal matrix; cis-regulatory sequences; sea urchin
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Major Option:Biology
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Davidson, Eric H.
Thesis Committee:
  • Davidson, Eric H. (chair)
  • Lazarides, Elias
  • Meyerowitz, Elliot M.
  • Rothenberg, Ellen V.
  • Wold, Barbara J.
Defense Date:7 June 1988
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:08262013-094712996
Persistent URL:
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URLURL TypeDescription adapted for Chapter 1. adapted for Appendix.
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:7942
Deposited On:26 Aug 2013 17:35
Last Modified:26 Oct 2021 23:54

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