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Imaging of multicellular large-scale rhythmic calcium waves during zebrafish gastrulation

The National Academy of Sciences
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  • Biological Sciences
  • Physics


Oscillations of cytosolic free calcium levels have been shown to influence gene regulation and cell differentiation in a variety of model systems. Intercellular calcium waves thus present a plausible mechanism for coordinating cellular processes during embryogenesis. Herein we report use of aequorin and a photon imaging microscope to directly observe a rhythmic series of intercellular calcium waves that circumnavigate zebrafish embryos over a 10-h period during gastrulation and axial segmentation. These waves first appeared at about 65% epiboly and continued to arise every 5–10 min up to at least the 16-somite stage. The waves originated from loci of high calcium activity bordering the blastoderm margin. Several initiating loci were active early in the wave series, whereas later a dorsal marginal midline locus predominated. On completion of epiboly, the dorsal locus was incorporated into the developing tail bud and continued to generate calcium waves. The locations and timing at which calcium dynamics are most active appear to correspond closely to embryonic cellular and syncytial sites of known morphogenetic importance. The observations suggest that a panembryonic calcium signaling system operating in a clock-like fashion might play a role during vertebrate axial patterning.

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