Putiri, E., and Pelegri, F. (2011) The zebrafish maternal-effect gene mission impossible encodes the DEAH-box helicase Dhx16 and is essential for the expression of downstream endodermal genes. Developmental Biology. 353(2):275-289.
Early animal embryonic development requires maternal products that drive developmental processes prior to the activation of the zygotic genome at the mid-blastula transition. During and after this transition, maternal products may continue to act within incipient zygotic developmental programs. Mechanisms that control maternally-inherited products to spatially and temporally restrict developmental responses remain poorly understood, but necessarily depend on posttranscriptional regulation. We report the functional analysis and molecular identification of the zebrafish maternal-effect gene mission impossible (mis). Our studies suggest requirements for maternally-derived mis function in events that occur during gastrulation, including cell movement and the activation of some endodermal target genes. Cell transplantation experiments show that the cell movement defect is cell autonomous. Within the endoderm induction pathway, mis is not required for the activation of early zygotic genes, but is essential to implement nodal activity downstream of casanova/sox 32 but upstream of sox17 expression. Activation of nodal signaling in blastoderm explants shows that the requirement for mis function in endoderm gene induction is independent of the underlying yolk cell. Positional cloning of mis, including genetic rescue and complementation analysis, shows that it encodes the DEAH-box RNA helicase Dhx16, shown in other systems to act in RNA regulatory processes such as splicing and translational control. Analysis of a previously identified insertional dhx16 mutation shows that the zygotic component of this gene is also essential for embryonic viability. Our studies provide a striking example of the interweaving of maternal and zygotic genetic functions during the egg-to-embryo transition. Maternal RNA helicases have long been known to be involved in the development of the animal germ line, but our findings add to growing evidence that these factors may also control specific gene expression programs in somatic tissues.