Morphogenesis of the early post-implantation mouse embryo
The morphogenetic events that give rise to the early post-implantation mouse embryo (egg cylinder) have not been thoroughly studied and our knowledge is restricted to “snap-shot” descriptions of embryos recovered at different stages of implantation from the mother. A central feature of the egg cylinder is the pro-amniotic cavity, which spans the embryo and participates in formation of the extraembryonic membranes. The major aims of my PhD studies have been to reveal how this cavity is formed (Aim 1) and then how the egg cylinder grows (Aim 2). In order to address how the pro-amniotic cavity forms (Aim 1), I first characterised in detail development of the architecture of the extra-embryonic ectoderm (ExE), which has to be remodelled to permit cavity formation. My findings indicate that the ExE comprises cells in direct contact with a basement membrane and cells that lie deeper in the tissue. The ExE originates in the polar trophectoderm, a monolayer covering the epiblast of the blastocyst, which expands and undergoes invagination to form a slit-like cavity. By carrying out analyses of fixed specimens and live imaging of cultured embryos, I have found that the epiblast and ExE cavity extend towards each other through the formation and resolution of multiple rosette structures. This leads to the fusion of the ExE and epiblast cavities to form the unified pro-amniotic cavity. I show that this process is dependent on signalling cues stemming from the underlying basement membrane that activate the b1-integrin signalling pathway to regulate cell polarity, ExE tissue architecture and rosette formation. In addition to the basement membrane’s role in b1-integrin signalling, it also has physical functions that I characterise in the second part of my study (Aim 2). High resolution imaging revealed that the basement membrane underlying the epiblast is highly perforated during the implantation stages. These perforations are initially evenly distributed and then accumulate asymmetrically at the future posterior part of the embryo, just prior to gastrulation. Finally, I demonstrate that remodelling of the basement membrane requires the expression of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) in the epiblast under the control of Nodal. The anterior visceral endoderm inhibits Nodal signalling and hence MMP inhibition in the anterior. I demonstrate that activity of the MMPs and perforations in the basement membrane are essential for embryo growth. The domain of posterior basement membrane perforations persists beyond gastrulation suggesting a potential role for these perforations in primitive streak formation and extension. Together, my studies bring new important insights into the understanding of early mouse embryo morphogenesis.