During early development in vertebrates, cells change their shapes dramatically both from epithelial to mesenchymal and also from mesenchymal to epithelial, enabling the body to form complex tissues and organs. Using somitogenesis as a novel model, Rho family GTPases have recently been shown to play essential and differential roles in individual cell behaviors in actual developing embryos. Levels of Cdc42 activity provide a binary switch wherein high Cdc42 levels allow the cells to remain mesenchymal, while low Cdc42 levels produce epithelialization. Rac1 activity needs to be precisely controlled for proper epithelialization through the bHLH transcription factor Paraxis. Somitogenesis is expected to serve as an excellent model with which one can understand how the functions of developmental genes are resolved into the morphogenetic behavior of individual cells.
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