There is evidence suggesting that pHi elevation can induce differentiation to cement gland, an extremely anterior structure, during the early development of Xenopus laevis (Picard, J. J. (1975) J. Embryol. exp. Morphol. 33, 957–967; Sive, H. L., Hattori, K. and Weintraub, H. (1989) Cell 58, 171–180). We wanted to investigate whether axial development or neural induction are mediated in Xenopus via regulation of pHi. Our interest was stimulated further because certain signal transduction pathways, which are thought to mediate anterior neural induction (Otte, A. P., Van Run, P., Heideveld, M., Van Driel, R. and Durston, A. J. (1989) Cell 58, 641–648; Durston and Otte (1991), Cell-Cell Interactions in Early Development, pp. 109–127), are also known to modify the activity of proton extruders (Mitsuka and Berk (1991) Am. J. Physiol. 260, C562-C569; Wakabayashi, S., Sardet, C., Fafournoux, P., Counillon, L., Meloche, S., Pages, G. and Pouyssegur, J. (1993) Rev. Physiol. Biochem. Pharmacol. Vol. 119, pp. 157–186). We therefore measured pHi in explants of gastrula ectoderm and neurectoderm and identified ion exchangers that regulate pHi in these tissues. The measurements showed that pHi decreases in explants of both neurectoderm and uninduced ectoderm during the time course of gastrulation, this pHi decrease thus fails to correlate with neural induction. One important regulator of this cytoplasmic acidification is the Na+/H+ exchanger. The pHi set point, at which the acid extrusion activity of this alkalizing exchanger is shut off, shifts to more acidic values during the time course of gastrulation, thus permitting cytoplasmic acidification. We found also that preventing cytoplasmic acidification and thereby elevating pHi in late gastrula cells led to the specific suppression of posterior development. Neural induction and anterior development were unaffected by treatments leading either to an elevation of or a decrease in pHi. These findings indicate that the cellular processes mediating anterior development and neural induction are pHi tolerant, while the signals mediating posterior development require a sustained pHi decrease for their action, suggesting that downregulation of pHi is necessary for posterior axial development.

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