Published In


Document Type


Publication Date



Killifishes -- Developmental biology, Killifishes -- Embryology, Transcription factors, Genetic transcription


Background: The cellular signaling mechanisms and morphogenic movements involved in axis formation and gastrulation are well conserved between vertebrates. In nearly all described fish, gastrulation and the initial patterning of the embryonic axis occur concurrently with epiboly. However, annual killifish may be an exception to this norm. Annual killifish inhabit ephemeral ponds in South America and Africa and permanent populations persist by the production of stress-tolerant eggs. Early development of annual killifish is unique among vertebrates because their embryonic blastomeres disperse randomly across the yolk during epiboly and reaggregate several days later to form the embryo proper. In addition, annual killifish are able to arrest embryonic development in one to three stages, known as diapause I, II, and III. Little is known about how the highly conserved developmental signaling mechanisms associated with early vertebrate development may have shifted in order to promote the annual killifish phenotype. One of the most well-characterized and conserved transcription factors, oct4 (Pou5f1), may have a role in maintaining pluripotency. In contrast, BMP-antagonists such as chordin, noggin, and follistatin, have been previously shown to establish dorsal-ventral asymmetry during axis formation. Transcription factors from the SOXB1 group, such as sox2 and sox3, likely work to induce neural specification. Here, we determine the temporal expression of these developmental factors during embryonic development in the annual killifish Austrofundulus limnaeus using quantitative PCR and compare these patterns to other vertebrates.

Results: Partial transcript sequences to oct4, sox2, sox3, chordin, noggin-1, noggin-2, and follistatin were cloned, sequenced, and identified in A. limnaeus. We found oct4, sox3, chordin, and noggin-1 transcripts to likely be maternally inherited. Expression of sox2, follistatin, and noggin-2 transcripts were highest in stages following a visible embryonic axis.

Conclusions: Our data suggest that embryonic cells acquire their germ layer identity following embryonic blastomere reaggregation in A. limnaeus. This process of cellular differentiation and axis formation may involve similar conserved signaling mechanisms to other vertebrates. We propose that the undifferentiated state is prolonged during blastomere dispersal, thus functioning as a developmental stress buffer prior to the establishment of embryonic asymmetry and positional identity among the embryonic cells.


© 2015 Wagner and Podrabsky; licensee BioMed Central. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly credited. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

Persistent Identifier

Additional file 1 Table S1.docx (73 kB)
Degenerate primers for fragment isolation

Additional file 2 Table S2.docx (124 kB)
Isolated and cloned A. limnaeus gene fragments

Additional file 3 Table S3.docx (51 kB)
Blast results of cloned fragments

Additional file 4 Table S4.docx (69 kB)
qPCR primers and probes

Additional file 5 Table S5.docx (35 kB)
Top blastx searches to D. rerio.