The maternal dorsal determinants required for the specification of the dorsal territories of Xenopus early gastrulae are located at the vegetal pole of unfertilised eggs and are moved towards the prospective dorsal region of the fertilised egg during cortical rotation. While the molecular identity of the determinants is unknown, there are dorsal factors in the vegetal cortical cytoplasm (VCC). Here, we show that the VCC factors, when injected into animal cells activate the zygotic genes Siamois and Xnr3, suggesting that they act along the Wnt/beta-catenin pathway. In addition, Siamois and Xnr3 are activated at the vegetal pole of UV-irradiated embryos, indicating that these two genes are targets of the VCC factors in all embryonic cells. However, the consequences of their activation in cells that occupy different positions along the animal-vegetal axis differ. Dorsal vegetal cells of normal embryos or VCC-treated injected animal cells are able to dorsalise ventral mesoderm in conjugate experiments but UV-treated vegetal caps do not have this property. This difference is unlikely to reflect different levels of activation of FGF or activin-like signal transduction pathways but may reflect the activation of different targets of Siamois. Chordin, a marker of the head and axial mesoderm, is activated by the VCC/Siamois pathway in animal cells but not in vegetal cells whereas cerberus, a marker of the anterior mesendoderm which lacks dorsalising activity, can only be activated by the VCC/Siamois pathway in vegetal cells. We propose that the regionalisation of the organiser during gastrulation proceeds from the differential interpretation along the animal-vegetal axis of the activation of the VCC/beta-catenin/Siamois pathway.

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