Pyati, U.J., Cooper, M.S., Davidson, A.J., Nechiporuk, A., and Kimelman, D. (2006) Sustained Bmp signaling is essential for cloaca development in zebrafish. Development (Cambridge, England). 133(11):2275-2284.
Bone morphogenetic protein (Bmp) signaling has long been known to be important for the early development of the ventral mesoderm, including blood, vasculature and kidney cells. Although Bmp genes are continually expressed in the ventral cells throughout gastrulation and somitogenesis, previous studies in zebrafish have not addressed how the role of Bmp signaling changes over time to regulate ventral mesoderm development. Here, we describe the use of a transgenic inducible dominant-negative Bmp receptor line to examine the temporal roles of Bmp signaling in ventral mesoderm patterning. Surprisingly, we find that Bmp signaling from the mid-gastrula stage through early somitogenesis is important for excluding blood and vascular precursors from the extreme ventral mesoderm, and we show that this domain is normally required for development of the cloaca (the common gut and urogenital opening). Using a novel assay for cloacal function, we find that larvae with reduced mid-gastrula Bmp signaling cannot properly excrete waste. We show that the cloacal defects result from alterations in the morphogenesis of the cloaca and from changes in the expression of genes marking the excretory system. Finally, we show that HrT, a T-box transcription factor, is a Bmp-regulated gene that has an essential function in cloacal development. We conclude that sustained Bmp signaling plays an important role in specification of the zebrafish cloaca by maintaining the fate of extreme ventral cells during the course of gastrulation and early somitogenesis. Furthermore, our data suggest that alterations in Bmp signaling are one possible cause of anorectal malformations during human embryogenesis.