Temporal integration of inductive cues on the way to gastrulation.
Markers for the endoderm and mesoderm germ layers are commonly expressed together in the early embryo, potentially reflecting cells' ability to explore potential fates before fully committing. It remains unclear when commitment to a single-germ layer is reached and how it is impacted by external signals. Here, we address this important question in , a convenient model system in which mesodermal and endodermal fates are associated with distinct cellular movements during gastrulation. Systematically applying endoderm-inducing extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) signals to the ventral medial embryo-which normally only receives a mesoderm-inducing cue-reveals a critical time window during which mesodermal cell movements and gene expression are suppressed by proendoderm signaling. We identify the ERK target gene () as the main cause of the ventral furrow suppression and use computational modeling to show that Hkb repression of the mesoderm-associated gene is sufficient to account for a broad range of transcriptional and morphogenetic effects. Our approach, pairing precise signaling perturbations with observation of transcriptional dynamics and cell movements, provides a general framework for dissecting the complexities of combinatorial tissue patterning.