Fox (forkhead/winged helix) genes encode a family of transcription factors that are involved in embryonic pattern formation, regulation of tissue specific gene expression and tumorigenesis. Several of them are transcribed during Xenopus embryogenesis and are important for the patterning of ectoderm, mesoderm and endoderm. We have isolated three forkhead genes that are activated during gastrulation and play an important role in the dorso-ventral patterning of the mesoderm. XFKH1 (FoxA4b), the first vertebrate forkhead gene to be implicated in embryonic pattern formation, is expressed in the Spemann-Mangold organizer region and later in the embryonic notochord. XFKH7, the Xenopus orthologue of the murine Mfh1(Foxc2), is expressed in the presomitic mesoderm, but not in the notochord or lateral plate mesoderm. Finally, XFD-13'(FoxF1b)1 is expressed in the lateral plate mesoderm, but not in the notochord or presomitic mesoderm. Expression pattern and functional experiments indicate that these three forkhead genes are involved in the dorso-ventral patterning of the mesoderm.
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