Wnt signals provide a timing mechanism for the FGF-retinoid differentiation switch during vertebrate body axis extension

Isabel Olivera-Martinez, Kate G. Storey

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    95 Citations (Scopus)


    Differentiation onset in the vertebrate body axis is controlled by a conserved switch from fibroblast growth factor (FGF) to retinoid signalling, which is also apparent in the extending limb and aberrant in many cancer cell lines. FGF protects tail-end stem zone cells from precocious differentiation by inhibiting retinoid synthesis, whereas later-produced retinoic acid (RA) attenuates FGF signalling and drives differentiation. The timing of RA production is therefore crucial for the preservation of stem zone cells and the continued extension of the body axis. Here we show that canonical Wnt signalling mediates the transition from FGF to retinoid signalling in the newly generated chick body axis. FGF promotes Wnt8c expression, which persists in the neuroepithelium as FGF signalling declines. Wnt signals then act here to repress neuronal differentiation. Furthermore, although FGF inhibition of neuronal differentiation involves repression of the RA-responsive gene, retinoic acid receptor beta (RARbeta), Wnt signals are weaker repressors of neuron production and do not interfere with RA signal transduction. Strikingly, as FGF signals decline in the extending axis, Wnt signals now elicit RA synthesis in neighbouring presomitic mesoderm. This study identifies a directional signalling relay that leads from FGF to retinoid signalling and demonstrates that Wnt signals serve, as cells leave the stem zone, to permit and promote RA activity, providing a mechanism to control the timing of the FGF-RA differentiation switch.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)2125-2135
    Number of pages11
    Issue number11
    Publication statusPublished - Jun 2007


    • Animals
    • Body Patterning
    • Cell Differentiation
    • Chick Embryo
    • Electroporation
    • Fibroblast Growth Factors
    • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
    • Immunohistochemistry
    • In Situ Hybridization
    • Neurons
    • Signal Transduction
    • Tretinoin
    • Wnt Proteins


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