The earliest sign of the prospective neural crest of Xenopus is the expression of the ectodermal component of Xsna (the Xenopus homologue of snail) in a low arc on the dorsal aspect of stage 11 embryos, which subsequently assumes the horseshoe shape characteristic of the neural folds as the convergence-extension movements shape the neural plate. A related zinc-finger gene called Slug (Xslu) is expressed specifically in this tissue (i.e. the prospective crest) when the convergence extension movements are completed. Subsequently, Xslu is found in pre- and post-migratory cranial and trunk neural crest and also in lateral plate mesoderm after stage 17. Both Xslu and Xsna are induced by mesoderm from the dorsal or lateral marginal zone but not from the ventral marginal zone. From stage 10.5, explants of the prospective neural crest, which is underlain with tissue, are able to express Xslu. However expression of Xsna is not apparently specified until stage 12 and further contact with the inducer is required to raise the level of expression to that seen later in development. Xslu is specified at a later time. Embryos injected with noggin mRNA at the 1-cell stage or with plasmids driving noggin expression after the start of zygotic transcription express Xslu in a ring surrounding the embryo on the ventroposterior side. We suggest this indicates (a) that noggin interacts with another signal that is present throughout the ventral side of the embryo and (b) that Xslu is unable to express in the neural plate either because of the absence of a co-inducer or by a positive prohibition of expression. The ventral co-inducer, in the presence of overexpressed noggin, seems to generate an anterior/posterior pattern in the ventral part of the embryo comparable to that seen in neural crest of normal embryos. We suggest that the prospective neural crest is induced in normal embryos in the ectoderm that overlies the junction of the domains that express noggin and Xwnt-8. In support of this, we show animal cap explants from blastulae and gastrulae, treated with bFGF and noggin express Xslu but not NCAM although the mesoderm marker Xbra is also expressed. Explants treated with noggin alone express NCAM only. An indication that induction of the neural plate border is regulated independently of the neural plate is obtained from experiments using ultraviolet irradiation in the precleavage period. At certain doses, the cranial crest domains are not separated into lateral masses and there is a reduction in the size of the neural plate.

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