The dorsoventral axis is established early in Xenopus development and may involve signaling by Wnts, a family of Wnt1-protooncogene-related proteins. The protein kinase shaggy functions in the wingless/Wnt signaling pathway, which operates during Drosophila development. To assess the role of a closely related kinase, glycogen synthase kinase 3 beta (GSK-3 beta), in vertebrate embryogenesis, we cloned a cDNA encoding a Xenopus homolog of GSK-3 beta (XGSK-3 beta). XGSK-3 beta-specific transcripts were detected by Northern analysis in Xenopus eggs and early embryos. Microinjection of the mRNA encoding a catalytically inactive form of rat GSK-3 beta into a ventrovegetal blastomere of eight-cell embryos caused ectopic formation of a secondary body axis containing a complete set of dorsal and anterior structures. Furthermore, in isolated ectodermal explants, the mutant GSK-3 beta mRNA activated the expression of neural tissue markers. Wild-type XGSK-3 beta mRNA suppressed the dorsalizing effects of both the mutated GSK-3 beta and Xenopus dishevelled, a proposed upstream signaling component of the same pathway. These results strongly suggest that XGSK-3 beta functions to inhibit dorsoventral axis formation in the embryo and provide evidence for conservation of the Wnt signaling pathway in Drosophila and vertebrates.
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