Compared to basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF), a widely distributed, broad spectrum mitogen and mesoderm inducer, acidic fibroblast growth factor (aFGF) is reported to have an essentially neural distribution and to be undetectable in the early embryo. In the present investigation, we used immunoblotting and immunochemistry to assess the cellular and tissue distributions of aFGF and bFGF in 11-20-d rat embryos. Immunoblotting of crude and heparin-bound embryo extracts revealed faint bands at the expected 17-18-kD and predominant bands at an apparent molecular mass of 26 to 28-kD (despite reducing conditions) using multiple specific antibodies for aFGF and bFGF. Pretreatment with 8 M urea yielded 18-20-kD aFGF and bFGF and some 24-26-kD bFGF. Immunoreactivity for both aFGF and bFGF was positive and similar in the cytoplasm, nuclei, and extracellular matrix of cells of neuroectodermal and mesodermal origin, while it was negative in endoderm-derived cells. The distribution of immunoreactive aFGF and bFGF also showed changes during development that were associated with the process of cellular and tissue differentiation. For example, intensity and extent of immunoreactivity for both peptides progressively increased in the middle layer of the spinal cord with increasing differentiation of the neural cells. The immunostaining patterns were very similar for aFGF and bFGF for each organ and at each stage. In conclusion, high molecular mass forms of immunoreactive aFGF and bFGF are present in the rat embryo. Acidic FGF and bFGF are both widely distributed in tissues of neuroectodermal and mesodermal origin, and their distribution was very similar.

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