Mouse embryos that are homozygous for the Brachyury (T) deletion die at mid-gestation. They have prominent defects in the notochord, the allantois and the primitive streak. Expression of the T gene commences at the onset of gastrulation and is restricted to the primitive streak, mesoderm emerging from the streak, the head process and the notochord. Genetic evidence has suggested that there may be an increasing demand for T gene function along the rostrocaudal axis. Experiments reported here indicate that this may not be the case. Instead, the gradient in severity of the T defect may be caused by defective mesoderm cell movements, which result in a progressive accumulation of mesoderm cells near the primitive streak.
Embryonic stem (ES) cells which are homozygous for the T deletion have been isolated and their differentiation in vitro and in vivo compared with that of heterozygous and wild-type ES cell lines. In +/+ ↔ T/T ES cell chimeras the Brachyury phenotype is not rescued by the presence of wild-type cells and high level chimeras show most of the features characteristic of intact T/T mutants. A few offspring from blastocysts injected with T/T ES cells have been born, several of which had greatly reduced or abnormal tails. However, little or no ES cell contribution was detectable in these animals, either as coat colour pigmentation or by isozyme analysis. Inspection of potential +/+ ↔ T/T ES cell chimeras on the 11th or 12th day of gestation, stages later than that at which intact T/T mutants die, revealed the presence of chimeras with caudal defects. These chimeras displayed a gradient of ES cell colonisation along the rostrocaudal axis with increased colonisation of caudal regions. In addition, the extent of chimerism in ectodermal tissues (which do not invaginate during gastrulation) tended to be higher than that in mesodermal tissues (which are derived from cells invaginating through the primitive streak). These results suggest that nascent mesoderm cells lacking the T gene are compromised in their ability to move away from the primitive streak. This indicates that one function of the T genemay be to regulate cell adhesion or cell motility properties in mesoderm cells. Wild-type cells in +/+ ↔ T/T chimeras appear to move normally to populate trunk and head mesoderm, suggesting that the reduced motility in T/T cells is a cell autonomous defect