Cinquin Lab

Fast-tracking morphogen diffusion

Cinquin O., J. Theor. Biol. 238(3), pp532-540 (2006)


The readout of morphogen concentrations has been proposed to be an essential mechanism allowing embryos to specify cell identities (Wolpert Trends Genet 12 (1996) 359), but theoretical and experimental results have led to conflicting ideas as to how useful concentration gradients can be established. In particular, it has been pointed out that some models of passive extracellular diffusion exhibit traveling waves of receptor saturation, inadequate for the establishment of positional information. Two alternative (but not mutually exclusive) models are proposed here, which are based on recent experimental results highlighting the roles of extracellular glycoproteins and morphogen oligomerization. In the first model, inspired from the interactions of Dally and Dally-like with Wingless and Decapentaplegic in the third-instar Drosophila wing disc, two morphogen populations are considered: one in a cell-membrane phase, and another one in an extracellular-matrix phase, which does not interact with receptors; in the second model, inspired from biochemical studies of Sonic Hedgehog, morphogen oligomers are considered to diffuse freely without interacting with receptors. The existence of a dynamic sub-population of freely-diffusing morphogen allows the system to establish a gradient of bound receptor, which is suitable for the specification of positional information. Recent experimental results are discussed within the framework of these models, as well as further possible experiments. The role of Notum in the setup of the Wingless gradient is also shown to be likely not to involve a gradient in Notum distribution, even though Notum is only expressed close to the source of Wingless synthesis.