In vertebrate species, induction of the embryonic axis is initiated by the transport of maternally supplied determinants, initially localized to the vegetal pole of the egg, toward the prospective organizer in the animal region. This transport process remains incompletely understood. Here, we review studies involving embryonic manipulations, visualization, and functional analysis of the cytoskeleton and loss- and gain-of-function conditions, which provide insights in this process. Transport of dorsal determinants requires cytoskeletal reorganization of a vegetal array of microtubules, microtubule motors, and an off-center movement of the vegetal cortex with respect to the inner egg core, a so-called cortical rotation. Additional mechanisms may be used in specific systems, such as a more general animally directed movement found in the teleost embryo. Initial polarity of the microtubule movement depends on early asymmetries, which are amplified by the movement of the outermost cortex. An interplay between microtubule organization and axis specification has also been reported in other animal species. Altogether, these studies show the importance of cytoskeletal dynamic changes, such as bundling, force-inducing motor activity, and regulated cytoskeletal growth, for the intracellular transport of maternally inherited factors to their site of action in the zygote.
Part of the book: Cytoskeleton