1. Developmental Biology
  2. Structural Biology and Molecular Biophysics
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Large, long range tensile forces drive convergence during Xenopus blastopore closure and body axis elongation

  1. David R Shook  Is a corresponding author
  2. Eric M Kasprowicz
  3. Lance A Davidson
  4. Raymond Keller
  1. University of Virginia, United States
  2. Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, United States
  3. University of Pittsburgh, United States
Research Article
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Cite this article as: eLife 2018;7:e26944 doi: 10.7554/eLife.26944


Indirect evidence suggests that blastopore closure during gastrulation of anamniotes, including amphibians such as Xenopus laevis, depends on circumblastoporal convergence forces generated by the marginal zone (MZ), but direct evidence is lacking. We show that explanted MZs generate tensile convergence forces up to 1.5 mN during gastrulation and over 4 mN thereafter. These forces are generated by convergent thickening (CT) until the midgastrula and increasingly by convergent extension (CE) thereafter. Explants from ventralized embryos, which lack tissues expressing CE but close their blastopores, produce up to 2 mN of tensile force, showing that CT alone generates forces sufficient to close the blastopore. Uniaxial tensile stress relaxation assays show stiffening of mesodermal and ectodermal tissues around the onset of neurulation, potentially enhancing long-range transmission of convergence forces. These results illuminate the mechanobiology of early vertebrate morphogenic mechanisms, aid interpretation of phenotypes, and give insight into the evolution of blastopore closure mechanisms.

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Author details

  1. David R Shook

    Department of Biology, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, United States
    For correspondence
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-0131-1834
  2. Eric M Kasprowicz

    Department of Internal Medicine, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Philadelphia, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  3. Lance A Davidson

    Department of Bioengineering, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-2956-0437
  4. Raymond Keller

    Department of Biology, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.


National Institutes of Health (NICHD R37 HD025594 MERIT AWARD)

  • Raymond Keller

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.


Animal experimentation: This study was performed in strict accordance with the recommendations in the 8th Edition of the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, of the National Institutes of Health. All of the animals were manipulated according to an approved institutional animal care and use committee (IACUC) protocols of the University of Virginia. The protocol was approved by the Animal Care and Use Committee of the University of Virginia (protocol #2581). All surgery was performed under Tricaine anesthesia, and every effort was made to minimize suffering. The animal care and use program is accredited by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care, International (Date of most recent AAALAC accreditation: 11-22-2016). The University of Virginia has a PHS Assurance on file with the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW)(PHS Assurance #A3245-01, Valid through 06-30-2019 ). The University of Virginia is a USDA registered research facility(USDA Registration # 52-R-0011, Valid through 08-22-2017).

Reviewing Editor

  1. Todd C. McDevitt, Gladstone Institutes, United States

Publication history

  1. Received: March 20, 2017
  2. Accepted: March 12, 2018
  3. Accepted Manuscript published: March 13, 2018 (version 1)
  4. Version of Record published: April 11, 2018 (version 2)


© 2018, Shook et al.

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.


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