Mediolateral cell intercalation is proposed to drive morphogenesis of the primary embryonic axis in Xenopus. Mediolateral intercalation begins in a group of cells called the vegetal alignment zone, a subpopulation of cells in Spemann's organizer, and spreads through much of the marginal zone. To understand the functions of the vegetal alignment zone during gastrulation and axis formation, we have inhibited its formation by disrupting microtubules with nocodazole in early gastrula embryos. In such embryos, mediolateral intercalation, involution and convergent extension of the marginal zone do not occur. Although cell motility continues, and the anterior notochordal and somitic mesoderm differentiate in the pre-involution marginal zone, posterior notochordal and somitic mesoderm do not differentiate. In contrast, microtubule depolymerization in midgastrula embryos, after the vegetal alignment zone has formed, does not inhibit mediolateral cell intercalation, involution and convergent extension, or differentiation of posterior notochord and somites. We conclude that microtubules are required only for orienting and polarizing at stage 101/2 the first cells that undergo mediolateral intercalation and form the vegetal alignment zone, and not for subsequent morphogenesis. These results demonstrate that microtubules are required to form the vegetal alignment zone, and that both microtubules and the vegetal alignment zone play critical roles in the inductive and morphogenetic activities of Spemann's organizer. In addition, our results suggest that Spemann's organizer contains multiple organizers, which act in succession and change their location and function during gastrulation to generate the anterior/posterior axis in Xenopus.

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