By using a monoclonal antibody (4H11 Mab), we have investigated morphogenetic functions of a fibrous component of the blastocoelic extracellular matrix in relation to cellular activities during early development of the starfish Asterina pectinifera. The 4H11 fibers fill the blastocoele from the late-cleavage to late-gastrula stage and contain the 370-kDa proteinaceous molecule secreted only by the epithelial cells. When 4H11 Mab is introduced into the blastocoele of blastulae, the embryos reveal three distinct morphological abnormalities after the mid-gastrula stage: (1) Distribution of mesenchyme cells confined near the tip of the archenteron, (2) swelling of the posterior ectoderm, and (3) suppressed growth of the mouth, esophagus, and coelomic pouches. These abnormalities occur together with alterations in the distribution of the 4H11 fibers. In embryos recovering from the effect of 4H11 Mab, the mesenchyme cells rearrange the 4H11 fibers. We propose that 4H11 fibers play direct roles in the morphogenesis of starfish embryos by providing a dynamic scaffold not only for the mesenchyme cells but also for the epithelial cells. Moreover, 4H11 fibers have a resist force from within, in concert with the mesenchyme cells, to counter the bulging force intrinsic to the epithelia and hold the epithelia in specific positions, once the positions have been decided.
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