The Xenopus Wnt-8 gene is transiently expressed in ventral and lateral mesoderm during gastrulation and plays a critical role in patterning these tissues. In the current study, we show that the spatial and temporal pattern of expression of endogenous Xwnt-8 is regulated, in part, at a post-transcriptional level. We have identified a novel sequence element in the 3′ untranslated region of the Xwnt-8 RNA that controls the polyadenylation status of reporter and endogenous Xwnt-8 RNAs, directs rapid RNA degradation beginning precisely at the early gastrula stage, and represses translation of transcripts throughout development. Expression of endogenous Xwnt-8 is normally downregulated within lateral (presomitic) mesoderm following gastrulation. We demonstrate that rapid degradation of Xwnt-8 transcripts, mediated by these regulatory elements in the 3′ untranslated region, is essential to this process and that downregulation is required to prevent overcommitment of somitic cells to a myogenic fate. These studies demonstrate a role for post-transcriptional regulation of zygotic gene expression in vertebrate embryonic patterning.

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