The vertebrate digestive tract develops left-right asymmetric loops and chiral rotations that are essential for normal physiological function. Perturbations of these fascinating anatomical features underlie the development of life-threatening congenital defects. In the early embryo, the initial determination of "left" versus "right" is manifest as unique left-right asymmetric gene expression patterns, including the left-limited expression of the transcription factor, Pitx2, which is required for normal asymmetric organ morphogenesis. However, the mechanism by which this molecular asymmetry then engenders morphological asymmetries within developing organs remains poorly understood. Preliminary data indicate that the endoderm cell rearrangements that drive tissue elongation and epithelial morphogenesis in the Xenopus primitive gut tube (PGT) are governed by Wnt/Planar Cell Polarity (Wnt/PCP) signaling, and are modulated by Pitx2 expression. The objective of this proposal is to determine the individual and combined roles of Pitx2 and Wnt/PCP signaling in regulating endoderm cell shape, adhesion and/or rearrangement during the development of left-right asymmetric anatomy in the digestive tract. Loss- and gain-of-function strategies will be employed, including the use of novel photoactivatable reagents that have been developed for side-, stage-, and tissue-specific spatiotemporal modulation of Wnt-PCP and Pitx2 expression in the Xenopus gut tube.
Specific Aim 1 is to determine whether Wnt-PCP signaling regulates cell shape, adhesion and rearrangement in the endoderm during gut morphogenesis.
Aim 2 is to determine whether asymmetric Pitx2 expression controls these parameters on the left side of the gut tube.
Aim 3 is to determine whether the function of Pitx2 in asymmetric gut morphogenesis is mediated by Wnt-PCP signaling. Successful completion of the proposed research will provide unique insight into the unsolved mechanisms of asymmetric organ morphogenesis, by linking left-right asymmetric gene expression patterns to key mechanisms of asymmetric organ development.

Public Health Relevance

The proposed work will illuminate the currently unknown etiology of common digestive organ birth defects, such as intestinal malrotation, narrowing or occlusion of the digestive tract, and congenital short bowel. The results of this research will also have significant, broad implications for the interrelationship of Pitx2 and Wnt signaling in the morphogenesis of multiple symmetric and asymmetric organs, and in the epithelial-mesenchymal transitions that drive development, maintain gut epithelial homeostasis, and underlie metastatic progression in tumors of the digestive and other epithelia.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Development - 2 Study Section (DEV2)
Program Officer
Carrington, Jill L
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
North Carolina State University Raleigh
Veterinary Sciences
Schools of Veterinary Medicine
United States
Zip Code
Dush, Michael K; Nascone-Yoder, Nanette M (2013) Jun N-terminal kinase maintains tissue integrity during cell rearrangement in the gut. Development 140:1457-66
Bloom, Stephanie; Ledon-Rettig, Cris; Infante, Carlos et al. (2013) Developmental origins of a novel gut morphology in frogs. Evol Dev 15:213-23
Morckel, Allison R; Lusic, Hrvoje; Farzana, Laila et al. (2012) A photoactivatable small-molecule inhibitor for light-controlled spatiotemporal regulation of Rho kinase in live embryos. Development 139:437-42
Dush, Michael K; McIver, Andrew L; Parr, Meredith A et al. (2011) Heterotaxin: a TGF-ýý signaling inhibitor identified in a multi-phenotype profiling screen in Xenopus embryos. Chem Biol 18:252-63
Deiters, Alexander; Garner, R Aaron; Lusic, Hrvoje et al. (2010) Photocaged morpholino oligomers for the light-regulation of gene function in zebrafish and Xenopus embryos. J Am Chem Soc 132:15644-50