Anna-Katerina Hadjantonakis: Gastrulation: A Paradigm for Tissue Morphogenesis

The primitive endoderm (PrE) contributes cellular descendants (labeled with GFP) to the gut endoderm of mouse embryo. The primitive endoderm (PrE) contributes cellular descendants (labeled with GFP) to the gut endoderm of mouse embryo.

Gastrulation is the process which results in the formation of the three germ layers - ectoderm, mesoderm and endoderm - the precursor cells of somatic tissues. Gastrulation is a critical event in the life of an embryo, with defects in the process resulting in embryonic lethality or congenital malformations.

Our interests center on investigating the cell behaviors and molecular mechanisms driving gastrulation in mammals using the mouse as a model. In particular we are focusing on the formation of the mesoderm and gut endoderm. The mesoderm is the precursor tissue of the musculature and cardiovascular system, while the gut endoderm will give rise to the respiratory and digestive tracts, and associated organs such as the lungs, liver and pancreas.

The broad goal of our work is to understand the origin and fate of mesoderm and gut endoderm cells. Specifically, we are investigating the mechanisms driving their cell-type specification and the coordination with tissue morphogenesis. Towards these aims we are exploiting various approaches, including live imaging, mouse genetics and embryo-derived stem cells.