An organizing activity is required for head patterning and cell fate specification in the polychaete annelid Capitella teleta: New insights into cell-cell signaling in Lophotrochozoa

Aldine R. Amiel, Jonathan Q. Henry, Elaine C. Seaver

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Many lophotrochozoans (i.e., molluscs, annelids, nemerteans, and polyclad flatworms) display a well-conserved early developmental program called spiral cleavage that contrasts with the high diversity of adult body forms present in this group. Due to this stereotypical development, each cell can be uniquely identified and its lineage history known following intracellular injection of lineage tracers. Cell deletion experiments performed mainly in molluscs have demonstrated that one or two cells associated with the endomesodermal lineage represent an embryonic organizer of subsequent development and are causally involved in cell fate and body patterning. Utilizing the published fate map of the spiral-cleaving annelid Capitella teleta, we used infrared laser cell deletions to dissect the role of individual cells on the patterning of the larval body. Thirteen uniquely identifiable individual blastomeres and two double cell combination deletions were studied to assess larval phenotypes by scoring multiple morphological structures and cell type-specific molecular markers differentially expressed along the antero-posterior and dorso-ventral axes. Surprisingly, our results show that in C. teleta, the cellular identity of the "organizing cell" and the timing of the organizing activity are different from that of other spiralians. In C. teleta, the ectodermal primary somatoblast, 2d, is the key cell responsible for organizing activity during early embryonic development, and is necessary for bilateral symmetry and dorso-ventral axis organization of the head as well as neural, foregut and mesoderm tissue formation. Furthermore, we show that the ERK/MAPK signaling pathway does not appear to be involved in organizing activity in C. teleta. This contrasts with data from molluscs and the molecular mechanism suggested for another polychaete, Hydroides elegans, highlighting likely molecular level variation among spiralian embryos. These results reinforce the idea that an embryonic organizing activity is present across spiralians. Our data also emphasize the developmental variation within lophotrochozoans, and may ultimately provide insight into the role of developmental processes in the evolution of diverse body forms in metazoans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)107-122
Number of pages16
JournalDevelopmental Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1 2013



  • Annelid
  • Organizing activity
  • Patterning
  • Polychaete
  • Spiralian

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Cell Biology

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