In animal development following the initial cleavage stage of embryogenesis, the cell cycle becomes dependent on intercellular signaling and controlled by the genomically encoded ontogenetic program. Runx transcription factors are critical regulators of metazoan developmental signaling, and we have shown that the sea urchin Runx gene runt-1, which is globally expressed during early embryogenesis, functions in support of blastula stage cell proliferation and expression of the mitogenic genes pkc1, cyclinD, and several wnts. To obtain a more comprehensive list of early runt-1 regulatory targets, we screened a Strongylocentrotus purpuratus microarray to identify genes mis-expressed in mid-blastula stage runt-1 morphants. This analysis showed that loss of Runx function perturbs the expression of multiple genes involved in cell division, including the pro-growth and survival kinase Akt (PKB), which is significantly underexpressed in runt-1 morphants. Further genomic analysis revealed that Akt is encoded by two genes in the S. purpuratus genome, akt-1 and akt-2, both of which contain numerous canonical Runx target sequences. The transcripts of both genes accumulate several fold during blastula stage, contingent on runt-1 expression. Inhibiting Akt expression or activity causes blastula stage cell cycle arrest, whereas overexpression of akt-1 mRNA rescues cell proliferation in runt-1 morphants. These results indicate that post-cleavage stage cell division requires Runx-dependent expression of akt.
Robertson AJ, Coluccio A, Jensen S, Rydlizky K, Coffman JA (2013) Sea urchin akt activity is Runx-dependent and required for post-cleavage stage cell division. Biology Open 2: 472-478. doi:10.1242/bio.20133913.