Xenopus embryonic ectodermal cells dissociated for three or more hours differentiate into neural tissue instead of adopting their normal epidermal fate. This default type of neural induction occurs in the absence of Spemann's organizer signals and is thought to be caused by the dilution of endogenous BMPs into the culture medium. Unexpectedly, we observed that BMP ligands continue to signal in dissociated cells. Instead, cell dissociation induces a sustained activation of the Ras/ MAPK pathway, which causes the phosphorylation of Smad1 at sites that inhibit the activity of this transcription factor. It is this activation of Ras/MAPK that is required for neuralization in dissociated ectoderm. © 2005 by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.
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