Wnt/β-catenin signalling facilitates cell fate decision making in the early mouse embryo

  • Elena Corujo Simon

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


At embryonic day 3.5 (E3.5), inner cell mass (ICM) cells co-express the transcription factors NANOG and GATA6. Between E3.5 and E4.5, cells of the ICM differentiate into epiblast (Epi) and primitive endoderm (PrE). These two lineages are distinguished by the differential expression of the previously coexpressed transcription factors; Epi cells express NANOG while PrE cells express GATA6. FGF/ERK signalling is responsible for Epi and PrE differentiation but it does not explain the initial co-expression of both factors and how the mutually exclusive expression arises. β-catenin is the downstream effector of Wnt signalling, and it is also found in the membrane forming a complex with E-cadherin. Depending on it subcellular location, β-catenin has been associated with pluripotency and differentiation of mESCs, whose origin is the mouse embryo. My hypothesis was that changes in both cellular pools of β-catenin are involved in ICM differentiation. To characterize Wnt/β-catenin role during preimplantation development, I applied quantitative immunofluorescence analysis (QIF) together with chemical and classical genetics in in vitro and in vivo models. I found that high membrane β-catenin levels are associated with Epi cells from E4.0 stage, while nuclear β-catenin levels are higher in co-expressing cells at E3.5 and PrE precursors at E4.0. My results indicate that increases in nuclear β-catenin levels allow the ICM cells to be specified earlier, determined by an earlier appearance of mutually exclusive expression of GATA6 and NANOG in vitro and ex vivo. Moreover, increased β-catenin levels promote specification towards PrE fate, observed by the presence of higher percentages of PrE cells. Conversely, a decrease in β-catenin levels result in slower ICM specification into Epi and PrE. Finally, modulation of FGF/ERK signalling in mouse embryos, which is the main pathway in this cell fate choice, led to changes in β-catenin subcellular location and levels. Altogether, my results are consistent with a role for Wnt/β-catenin signalling facilitating PrE fate acquisition concomitantly with FGF/ERK signalling.
Date of Award7 Jun 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorSilvia Munoz-Descalzo (Supervisor) & Tony Perry (Supervisor)


  • Developmental Biology
  • Quantitative analysis
  • cell fate choice
  • mouse development

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