Brachyury is a transcription factor that functions in gastrulation and endoderm development throughout the Bilateria. Here, we identify genes that are expressed downstream of brachyury during gastrulation of the sea urchin embryo. Screens with two different complex probes generated by subtractive hybridization were carried out on high-density arrays of embryonic cDNA libraries. An mRNA sequence population from embryos expressing brachyury at its peak stage of expression was subtracted with message sequence from embryos in which Brachyury function had been "knocked-out" by injection of a morpholine-substituted antisense oligonucleotide to generate a differential probe for brachyury target genes. Another probe was made by using an mRNA population from embryos that mis-express brachyury at a stage just prior to the normal onset of expression, subtracted with message sequence taken from normal embryos at this stage. Screens carried out with these probes target overlapping but distinct sets of downstream genes. After partial sequence characterization, promising genes were independently analyzed by quantitative real-time PCR and by in situ hybridization. Two major classes of genes emerge in this study: genes expressed in the subset of the secondary mesenchyme cells (SMC) that will become pigment cells, and genes that are expressed in portions of the endoderm coincident with brachyury expression. The latter genes are candidates for direct transcriptional targets of Brachyury. Some of the endodermal genes that respond to Brachyury are cytoskeletal modulators that may play a role in gut morphogenesis. This finding is consistent with the block in gastrulation induced by interfering with Brachyury function in sea urchins, and with known or suggested Brachyury function in other species. Other endodermal target genes are expressed in the archenteron and might be terminal differentiation enzymes of the gut. Brachyury expression patterns for Strongylocentrotus purpuratus reported in this paper are entirely consistent with data from other echinoderm species. Brachyury expression in the vegetal plate is confined to the presumptive endodermal cells. Therefore, the SMC genes are likely to be indirect targets of Brachyury-induced signaling from the surrounding endoderm to the central mesoderm, or the effects on these genes may be indirect consequences of gross disruption of the vegetal plate. These results and other data suggest that the brachyury gene transduces information about the state of endodermal specification to genes that modulate morphogenesis and genes that perform terminal functions in the gut. © 2002 Elsevier Science (USA).
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