ADMP controls the size of Spemann's organizer through a network of self-regulating expansion-restriction signals

Avi Leibovich, Hadas Kot-Leibovich, Danny Ben-Zvi, Abraham Fainsod*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Background: The bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) signaling gradient is central for dorsoventral patterning in amphibian embryos. This gradient is established through the interaction of several BMPs and BMP antagonists and modulators, some secreted by Spemann's organizer, a cluster of cells coordinating embryonic development. Anti-dorsalizing morphogenetic protein (ADMP), a BMP-like transforming growth factor beta ligand, negatively affects the formation of the organizer, although it is robustly expressed within the organizer itself. Previously, we proposed that this apparent discrepancy may be important for the ability of ADMP to scale the BMP gradient with embryo size, but how this is achieved is unclear. Results: Here we report that ADMP acts in the establishment of the organizer via temporally and mechanistically distinct signals. At the onset of gastrulation, ADMP is required to establish normal organizer-specific gene expression domains, thus displaying a dorsal, organizer-promoting function. The organizer-restricting, BMP-like function of ADMP becomes apparent slightly later, from mid-gastrula. The organizer-promoting signal of ADMP is mediated by the activin A type I receptor, ACVR1 (also known as activin receptor-like kinase-2, ALK2). ALK2 is expressed in the organizer and is required for organizer establishment. The anti-organizer function of ADMP is mediated by ACVRL1 (ALK1), a putative ADMP receptor expressed in the lateral regions flanking the organizer that blocks expansion of the organizer. Truncated ALK1 prevents the organizer-restricting effects of ADMP overexpression, suggesting a ligand-receptor interaction. We also present a mathematical model of the regulatory network controlling the size of the organizer. Conclusions: We show that the opposed, organizer-promoting and organizer-restricting roles of ADMP are mediated by different receptors. A self-regulating network is proposed in which ADMP functions early through ALK2 to expand its own expression domain, the organizer, and later functions through ALK1 to restrict this domain. These effects are dependent on ADMP concentration, timing, and the spatial localization of the two receptors. This self-regulating temporal switch may control the size of the organizer and the genes expressed within in response to genetic and external stimuli during gastrulation.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number13
JournalBMC Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 22 Jan 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Fainsod et al.


  • ADMP
  • ALK1
  • ALK2
  • BMP signaling
  • Dominant negative receptors
  • Scaling
  • Spemann's organizer
  • Xenopus embryos


Dive into the research topics of 'ADMP controls the size of Spemann's organizer through a network of self-regulating expansion-restriction signals'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this