Prenotochord cell sorting is regarded as one of the first cell sorting events in early chordate development. We recently demonstrated that this sorting event occurs in vitro, although the mediator of this activity remains unidentified. Herein, we report the isolation of a full-length cDNA clone of Axial protocadherin (AXPC), the homologue of human protocadherin-1 (PCD1). AXPC encodes a transmembrane protein (AXPC) that is expressed exclusively in the notochord at the neurula stage and in the pronephros, somites, heart, optic vesicle, otic vesicle, and distinct parts of the brain at the tailbud stage. Cell dissociation and reaggregation assays and in vivo microinjection experiments demonstrated that cells overexpressing a membrane-tethered form of AXPC (MT-AXPC) acquired the same adhesive properties as prenotochord cells. Moreover, microinjection of either mRNA encoding the dominant negative form of AXPC (DN-AXPC) or morpholino oligonucleotides interferes with the sorting activity of prenotochord cells and normal axis formation. This study suggests that AXPC is necessary and sufficient for prenotochord cell sorting in the gastrulating embryo, and may also mediate sorting events later in development.
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