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Cdc42 Effector Protein 2 (XCEP2) is required for normal gastrulation and contributes to cellular adhesion in Xenopus laevis

Karen K Nelson and Richard W Nelson*

Author Affiliations

Biology Department, Wabash College, 301 W. Wabash Ave., Crawfordsville, IN 47933, USA

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BMC Developmental Biology 2004, 4:13  doi:10.1186/1471-213X-4-13

Published: 8 October 2004



Rho GTPases and their downstream effector proteins regulate a diverse array of cellular processes during embryonic development, including reorganization of cytoskeletal architecture, cell adhesion, and transcription. Changes in the activation state of Rho GTPases are converted into changes in cellular behavior by a diversity of effector proteins, which are activated in response to changes in the GTP binding state of Rho GTPases. In this study we characterize the expression and function of one such effector, XCEP2, that is present during gastrulation stages in Xenopus laevis.


In a search for genes whose expression is regulated during early stages of embryonic development in Xenopus laevis, a gene encoding a Rho GTPase effector protein (Xenopus Cdc42 effector protein 2, or XCEP2) was isolated, and found to be highly homologous, but not identical, to a Xenopus sequence previously submitted to the Genbank database. These two gene sequences are likely pseudoalleles. XCEP2 mRNA is expressed at constant levels until mid- to late- gastrula stages, and then strongly down-regulated at late gastrula/early neurula stages. Injection of antisense morpholino oligonucleotides directed at one or both pseudoalleles resulted in a significant delay in blastopore closure and interfered with normal embryonic elongation, suggesting a role for XCEP2 in regulating gastrulation movements. The morpholino antisense effect could be rescued by co-injection with a morpholino-insensitive version of the XCEP2 mRNA. Antisense morpholino oligonucleotides were found to have no effect on mesodermal induction, suggesting that the observed effects were due to changes in the behavior of involuting cells, rather than alterations in their identity. XCEP2 antisense morpholino oligonucleotides were also observed to cause complete disaggregation of cells composing animal cap explants, suggesting a specific role of XCEP2 in maintenance or regulation of cell-cell adhesion in early embryos. This loss of cell adhesion could be rescued by co-injection with a morpholino-insensitive version of the XCEP2 mRNA.


XCEP2 appears to be an essential component in the early developmental program in Xenopus laevis. XCEP2 is involved in maintenance of cell-cell adhesion, and as such may constitute a regulatory component that could help to balance the need for tissue integrity and plasticity during the dynamic cellular rearrangements of gastrulation.