Segmentation of the vertebrate embryo begins when the paraxial mesoderm is subdivided into somites, through a process that remains poorly understood. To study this process, we have characterized X-Delta-2, which encodes the second Xenopus homolog of Drosophila Delta. Strikingly, X-Delta-2 is expressed within the presomitic mesoderm in a set of stripes that corresponds to prospective somitic boundaries, suggesting that Notch signaling within this region establishes a segmental prepattern prior to somitogenesis. To test this idea, we introduced antimorphic forms of X-Delta-2 and Xenopus Suppressor of Hairless (X-Su(H)) into embryos, and assayed the effects of these antimorphs on somite formation. In embryos expressing these antimorphs, the paraxial mesoderm differentiated normally into somitic tissue, but failed to segment properly. Both antimorphs also disrupted the segmental expression of X-Delta-2 and Hairy2A, a basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH) gene, within the presomitic mesoderm. These observations suggest that X-Delta-2, via X-Notch-1, plays a role in segmentation, by mediating cell-cell interactions that underlie the formation of a segmental prepattern prior to somitogenesis.

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