Researchers at the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência (IGC), in Portugal, have taken a major step forward in understanding one of the fundamental questions in the field of developmental biology today: how the organs are placed in their correct positions in the body. In a study published in the 1st October issue of the journal Genes and Development, the scientists describe, for the first time, the role of the gene Cerl-2 (Cerberus-like-2), in setting up the asymmetric distribution of organs in the embryo, that is, why the heart always is always on the left and the liver always on the right hand side of the body, for example.
The team of scientists, lead by José António Belo, made genetically altered mice, in which the Cerl-2 gene is not functional, known as ‘knockout’ mice. These animals show several physical changes, such as lungs with two identical lobes (the left lobe), left-right inversions of the heart and lungs and of some abdominal organs (the stomach, the duodenum and the kidneys, for example).
The effect of Cerl-2 on the left-right asymmetry of the embryos seems to be a result of its role as an antagonist of another gene previously implicated in this process, known as Nodal. Nodal is switched on asymmetrically in the embryo, only on the left hand side of a tissue called the lateral plate mesoderm (there is also the right lateral plate mesoderm) and in the left half of the node (a signaling structure that is crucial for the correct development of the embryo). Nodal turns on a signaling cascade of genes, restricted to the left hand-side of the embryo. On the other hand, Cerl-2 is switched on in only the right half of the node, adjacent to the area of Nodal.
Ana Coutinho | alfa
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