In the frog embryo, a sub-population of trunk neural crest (NC) cells undergoes a dorsal route of migration to contribute to the mesenchyme in the core of the dorsal fin. Here we show that a second population of cells, originally located in the dorsomedial region of the somite, also contributes to the fin mesenchyme. We find that the frog orthologue of Wnt11 (Wnt11-R) is expressed in both the NC and somite cell populations that migrate into the fin matrix. Wnt11-R is expressed prior to migration and persists in the mesenchymal cells after they have distributed throughout the fin. Loss of function studies demonstrate that Wnt11-R activity is required for an epithelial to mesenchymal transformation (EMT) event that precedes migration of cells into the fin matrix. In Wnt11-R depleted embryos, the absence of fin core cells leads to defective dorsal fin development and to collapse of the fin structure. Experiments using small molecule inhibitors indicate that dorsal migration of fin core cells depends on calcium signaling through calcium/calmodulin-dependent kinase II (CaMKII). In Wnt11-R depleted embryos, normal migration of NC cells and dorsal somite cells into the fin and normal fin development can be rescued by stimulation of calcium release. These studies are consistent with a model in which Wnt11-R signaling, via a downstream calcium pathway, regulates fin cell migration and, more generally, indicates a role for non-canonical Wnt signaling in regulation of EMT.
Keywords: Wnt11, Wnt11-R, Xenopus, trunk neural crest, fine core cells, CaMKII, non-canonical Wnt signaling