Among the three embryonic germ layers, the mesoderm plays a central role in the establishment of the vertebrate body plan. The mesoderm is specified by secreted signaling proteins from the FGF, Nodal, BMP and Wnt families. No new classes of extracellular mesoderm-inducing factors have been identified in more than two decades. Here, we show that the pinhead (pnhd) gene encodes a secreted protein that is essential for the activation of a subset of mesodermal markers in the Xenopus embryo. RNA sequencing revealed that many transcriptional targets of Pnhd are shared with those of the FGF pathway. Pnhd activity was accompanied by Erk phosphorylation and required FGF and Nodal but not Wnt signaling. We propose that during gastrulation Pnhd acts in the marginal zone to contribute to mesoderm heterogeneity via an FGF receptor-dependent positive feedback mechanism.
- Antero-posterior axis