Putting in the Erk: Growth factor signaling and mesoderm morphogenesis.
It has long been known that FGF signaling contributes to mesoderm formation, a germ layer found in triploblasts that is composed of highly migratory cells that give rise to muscles and to the skeletal structures of vertebrates. FGF signaling activates several pathways in the developing mesoderm, including transient activation of the Erk pathway, which triggers mesodermal fate specification through the induction of the gene brachyury and activates morphogenetic programs that allow mesodermal cells to position themselves in the embryo. In this review, we discuss what is known about the generation and interpretation of transient Erk signaling in mesodermal tissues across species. We focus specifically on mechanisms that translate the level and duration of Erk signaling into cell fate and cell movement instructions and discuss strategies for further interrogating the role that Erk signaling dynamics play in mesodermal gastrulation and morphogenesis.