Molecular mechanisms of ectodermal specification

Esther Bell


We are interested in understanding the molecular mechanisms of ectodermal specification in Xenopus leaves. We investigate how the ectoderm is induced and what it gives rise to, in particular how neural tissue is specified. The development of the nervous system is a complex process, of which the underlying mechanisms are slowly beginning to be elucidated. Before neural tissue is induced in the embryo, signals are required to inhibit the ectoderm from becoming epidermis so that it will become neural. Inhibitory signals from the dorsal blastopore lip (the Organizer) of the Xenopus embryo at gastrula stages will induce neural tissue. It has been demonstrated that in fact inhibition of BMP signals is sufficient to induce tissue with anterior telencephalic neural character. We are interested in how this process occurs, and if there are differences between cell-autonomous and non cell-autonomous neural inducers with respect to their downstream targets. Our group investigates these early molecular events in order to understand how these processes occur.