Although the mesoderm itself is induced at the blastula stage, its subdivision mainly occurs in response to further inductive signals during gastrulation. In the late blastula, most of the mesoderm has a ventral-type commitment except for the small organizer region which extends about 30° on each side of the dorsal midline. During gastrulation, dorsal convergence movements bring the cells of the lateroventral marginal zone up near the dorsal midline and into the range of the dorsalizing signal emitted by the organizer. This dorsalizing signal operates throughout gastrulation, can cross a Nuclepore membrane, and is not mimicked by lithium, FGFs or activin.

Anteroposterior specification also takes place during gastrulation and is probably controlled by a dominant region at the posterior end of the forming axis.

We have studied the expression patterns in Xenopus of three members of the FGF family: bFGF, int-2 and a newly discovered species, eFGF. These all have mesoderm inducing activity on isolated animal caps, but are likely also to be involved with the later interactions. RNAase protections and in situ hybridizations show that the int-2 and eFGF mRNAs are concentrated at the posterior end, while bFGF is expressed as a posterior to anterior gradient from tailbud to head.

Studies of embryos in which bFGF is overexpressed from synthetic mRNA show that biological activity is far greater when a functional signal sequence is provided. This suggests that int-2 and eFGF, which possess signal sequences, are better candidates for inducing factors in vivo than is bFGF.

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