BMP signaling plays a role in anterior-neural/head development, but not organizer activity, in the gastropod Crepidula fornicata

Deirdre C. Lyons, Kimberly J. Perry, Grant Batzel, Jonathan Q. Henry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BMP signaling is involved in many aspects of metazoan development, with two of the most conserved functions being to pattern the dorsal-ventral axis and to specify neural versus epidermal fates. An active area of research within developmental biology asks how BMP signaling was modified over evolution to build disparate body plans. Animals belonging to the superclade Spiralia/Lophotrochozoa are excellent experimental subjects for studying the evolution of BMP signaling because a highly conserved, stereotyped early cleavage program precedes the emergence of distinct body plans. In this study we examine the role of BMP signaling in one representative, the slipper snail Crepidula fornicata. We find that mRNAs encoding BMP pathway components (including the BMP ligand decapentaplegic, and BMP antagonists chordin and noggin-like proteins) are not asymmetrically localized along the dorsal-ventral axis in the early embryo, as they are in other species. Furthermore, when BMP signaling is perturbed by adding ectopic recombinant BMP4 protein, or by treating embryos with the selective Activin receptor-like kinase-2 (ALK-2) inhibitor Dorsomorphin Homolog 1 (DMH1), we observe no obvious effects on dorsal-ventral patterning within the posterior (post-trochal) region of the embryo. Instead, we see effects on head development and the balance between neural and epidermal fates specifically within the anterior, pre-trochal tissue derived from the 1q1 lineage. Our experiments define a window of BMP signaling sensitivity that ends at approximately 44–48 ​hours post fertilization, which occurs well after organizer activity has ended and after the dorsal-ventral axis has been determined. When embryos were exposed to BMP4 protein during this window, we observed morphogenetic defects leading to the separation of the anterior, 1q lineage from the rest of the embryo. The 1q-derived organoid remained largely undifferentiated and was radialized, while the post-trochal portion of the embryo developed relatively normally and exhibited clear signs of dorsal-ventral patterning. When embryos were exposed to DMH1 during the same time interval, we observed defects in the head, including protrusion of the apical plate, enlarged cerebral ganglia and ectopic ocelli, but otherwise the larvae appeared normal. No defects in shell development were noted following DMH1 treatments. The varied roles of BMP signaling in the development of several other spiralians have recently been examined. We discuss our results in this context, and highlight the diversity of developmental mechanisms within spiral-cleaving animals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)135-157
Number of pages23
JournalDevelopmental Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 15 2020


  • BMP
  • Crepidula
  • Dorsal-ventral patterning
  • Dpp
  • Embryonic organizer
  • Mollusca
  • Neural development
  • Spiralia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Cell Biology


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