The bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs) play critical roles in patterning the early embryo and in the development of many organs and tissues. We have identified a new member of this multifunctional gene family, BMP-11, which is most closely related to GDF-8/myostatin. During mouse embryogenesis, BMP-11 is first detected at 9.5 dpc in the tail bud with expression becoming stronger as development proceeds. At 10.0 dpc, BMP-11 is expressed in the distal and posterior region of the limb bud and later localizes to the mesenchyme between the skeletal elements. BMP-11 is also expressed in the developing nervous system, in the dorsal root ganglia, and dorsal lateral region of the spinal cord. To assess the biological activity of BMP-11, we tested the protein in the Xenopus ectodermal explant (animal cap) assay. BMP- 11 induced axial mesodermal tissue (muscle and notochord) in a dose-dependent fashion. At higher concentrations, BMP-11 also induced neural tissue. Interestingly, the activin antagonist, follistatin, but not noggin, an antagonist of BMPs 2 and 4, inhibited BMP-11 activity on animal caps. Our data suggest that in Xenopus embryos, BMP-11 acts more like activin, inducing dorsal mesoderm and neural tissue, and less like other family members such as BMPs 2, 4, and 7, which are ventralizing and anti-neuralizing signals. Taken together, these data suggest that during vertebrate embryogenesis, BMP-11 plays a unique role in patterning both mesodermal and neural tissues.
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