In the gastrulating chick embryo, the mesoderm cells arise from the epiblast layer by ingression through the linear accumulation of cells called the primitive streak. The mesoderm cells emerge from the streak with a fibroblastic morphology and proceed to move away from the mid-line of the embryo using, as a substratum, the basement membrane of the overlying epiblast and the extracellular matrix. We have investigated the roles of fibronectin and laminin as putative substrata for mesoderm cells using complementary in vivo and in vitro methods. We have microinjected agents into the tissue space adjacent to the primitive streak of living embryos and, after further incubation, we have examined the embryos for perturbation of the mesoderm tissue. These agents were: cell-binding regions from fibronectin (RGDS) and laminin (YIGSR), antibodies to these glycoproteins, and a Fab' fragment of the antibody to fibronectin. We find that RGDS, antibody to fibronectin, and the Fab' fragment cause a decrease in the number of mesoderm cells spread on the basement membrane, and a perturbation of cell shape suggesting locomotory impairment. No such influence was seen with YIGSR or antibodies to laminin. These results were extended using in vitro methods in which mesoderm cells were cultured in fibronectin-free medium on fibronectin or laminin in the presence of various agents. These agents were: RGDS; YIGSR; antibodies to fibronectin, fibronectin receptor, laminin and vitronectin; and a Fab' fragment of the fibronectin antiserum. We find that cell attachment and spreading on fibronectin is impaired by RGDS, antiserum to fibronectin, the Fab' fragment of fibronectin antiserum, and antiserum to fibronectin receptor. The results suggest that although the RGDS site in fibronectin is important, it is probably not the only fibronectin cell-binding site involved in mediating the behaviour of the mesoderm cells. Cells growing on laminin were perturbed by YIGSR, RGDS and antibodies to laminin, suggesting that mesoderm cells are able to recognise at least two sites in the laminin molecule. We conclude that the in vivo dependence of mesoderm cells on fibronectin is confirmed, but that although these cells have the ability to recognise sites in laminin as mediators of attachment and spreading, the in vivo role of this molecule in mesoderm morphogenesis is not yet certain.

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