The Molecular Basis of the Gastrula Organizer in Amphibians and Cnidarians

  • Yuuri Yasuoka
  • Masanori TairaEmail author
Part of the Diversity and Commonality in Animals book series (DCA)


The gastrula organizer, an embryonic tissue, has a central role in early development of all eumetazoans, from cnidarians to vertebrates. In amphibians, the organizer—also known as the Spemann–Mangold organizer—is located in the dorsal blastopore lip of the gastrula embryo. This organizer is capable of inducing a secondary body axis when transplanted into the ventral region of a blastula embryo. In sea anemone embryos, the organizer has recently been recognized in the blastoporal lip, implying its ancient origin among eumetazoans. Here we review the molecular basis of vertebrate and cnidarian organizers, which have been widely studied using Xenopus, zebrafish, and mice for more than 20 years, and have relatively recently been studied using Nematostella. Recent genome-wide investigations have provided a comprehensive overview of transcription factor (TF) binding sites and regulatory principles of the gene regulatory network (GRN) in the Xenopus organizer. These analyses provide a platform for genome-wide evolutionary study of organizer-equivalent tissues in other organisms, including cnidarians. Here, we discuss an evolutionary prospective for the organizer, focusing on (1) the formation of the organizer by combinatorial signaling pathways such as Wnt, Nodal, and Bmp; and (2) the GRN regulating organizer formation and activity by TFs such as Lim1/Lhx1, Otx, Goosecoid, Brachyury, and FoxA.


Evolution Development Genome Spemann-Mangold organizer Gene regulation Transcription factor Gene regulatory network Xenopus Nematostella 





blastula chordin- and noggin-expressing


chromatin immunoprecipitation sequencing


cis-regulatory module


distal element


gene regulatory network


polymerase chain reaction


proximal element


quantitative polymerase chain reaction


RNA polymerase II


RNA sequencing


reads per kilobase of exon per million mapped reads


transcription factor


zygotic gene activation



We thank Drs. Hiroshi Watanabe, Hidetoshi Saiga, and Ken C. W. Cho for critical reading of the manuscript, and Dr. Steven D. Aird for technical editing.


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Copyright information

© Springer Japan KK, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Marine Genomics UnitOkinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate UniversityOkinawaJapan
  2. 2.Department of Biological Sciences, Faculty of ScienceThe University of TokyoTokyoJapan

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