Coordination of symmetric cyclic gene expression during somitogenesis by Suppressor of Hairless involves regulation of retinoic acid catabolism

Karen Echeverri, Andrew C. Oates

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38 Scopus citations


Vertebrate embryos faithfully produce bilaterally symmetric somites that give rise to repetitive body structures such as vertebrae and skeletal muscle. Body segmentation is regulated by a cyclic gene expression system, containing the Delta-Notch pathway and targets, which generates bilaterally symmetric oscillations across the Pre-Somitic Mesoderm (PSM). The position of the forming somite boundary is controlled by interaction of this oscillator with a determination front comprised of opposing gradients of FGF and retinoic acid (RA) signalling. Disruption of RA production leads to asymmetries in cyclic gene expression, but the link between RA and the oscillator is unknown. In somitogenesis, Notch signalling activates target genes through the transcription factor Suppressor of Hairless (Su(H)). Here, we report that two Su(H) genes coordinate bilaterally symmetric positioning of somite boundaries in the zebrafish embryo. Combined Su(H) gene knockdown caused defects in visceral left/right asymmetry, neurogenic lateral inhibition, and symmetrical failure of the segmentation oscillator. However, by selectively down-regulating Su(H)2 or Su(H)1 function using specific antisense morpholinos, we observed asymmetric defects in anterior or posterior somite boundaries, respectively. These morphological abnormalities were reflected by underlying asymmetric cyclic gene expression waves in the presomitic mesoderm, indicating a key role for Su(H) in coordinating the left-right symmetry of this process. Strikingly, expression of the RA-degrading enzyme cyp26a1 in the tailbud was controlled by Su(H) activity, and morpholino knockdown of cyp26a1 alone caused asymmetric cyclic dlc expression, suggesting that excess RA in the tailbud may contribute to the cyclic asymmetries. Indeed, exogenous RA was sufficient to generate asymmetric expression of all cyclic genes. Our observations indicate that one element of the Notch signalling pathway, Su(H), is required for control of RA metabolism in the tailbud and that this regulation is involved in bilateral symmetry of cyclic gene expression and somitogenesis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)388-403
Number of pages16
JournalDevelopmental Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 15 2007


  • Asymmetry
  • Notch signalling
  • Retinoic acid
  • Segmentation
  • Somitogenesis
  • Zebrafish


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