Gene regulatory logic for reading the Sonic Hedgehog signaling gradient in the vertebrate neural tube.
ABSTRACT: Secreted signals, known as morphogens, provide the positional information that organizes gene expression and cellular differentiation in many developing tissues. In the vertebrate neural tube, Sonic Hedgehog (Shh) acts as a morphogen to control the pattern of neuronal subtype specification. Using an in vivo reporter of Shh signaling, mouse genetics, and systems modeling, we show that a spatially and temporally changing gradient of Shh signaling is interpreted by the regulatory logic of a downstream transcriptional network. The design of the network, which links three transcription factors to Shh signaling, is responsible for differential spatial and temporal gene expression. In addition, the network renders cells insensitive to fluctuations in signaling and confers hysteresis--memory of the signal. Our findings reveal that morphogen interpretation is an emergent property of the architecture of a transcriptional network that provides robustness and reliability to tissue patterning.
Project description:The morphogen Sonic Hedgehog (SHH) patterns tissues during development by directing cell fates in a concentration-dependent manner. The SHH signal is transmitted across the membrane of target cells by the heptahelical transmembrane protein Smoothened (SMO), which activates the GLI family of transcription factors through a mechanism that is undefined in vertebrates. Using CRISPR-edited null alleles and small-molecule inhibitors, we systematically analyzed the epistatic interactions between SMO and three proteins implicated in SMO signaling: the heterotrimeric G protein subunit G?S, the G protein-coupled receptor kinase 2 (GRK2), and the G?S-coupled receptor GPR161. Our experiments uncovered a signaling mechanism that modifies the sensitivity of target cells to SHH and consequently changes the shape of the SHH dose-response curve. In both fibroblasts and spinal neural progenitors, the loss of GPR161, previously implicated as an inhibitor of basal SHH signaling, increased the sensitivity of target cells across the entire spectrum of SHH concentrations. Even in cells lacking GPR161, GRK2 was required for SHH signaling, and G?s, which promotes the activation of protein Kinase A (PKA), antagonized SHH signaling. We propose that the sensitivity of target cells to Hedgehog morphogens, and the consequent effects on gene expression and differentiation outcomes, can be controlled by signals from G protein-coupled receptors that converge on G?s and PKA.
Project description:During development, multicellular organisms must accurately control both temporal and spatial aspects of tissue patterning. This is often achieved using morphogens, signaling molecules that form spatially varying concentrations and so encode positional information. Typical analysis of morphogens assumes that spatial information is decoded in steady state by measuring the value of the morphogen concentration. However, recent experimental work suggests that both pre-steady-state readout and measurement of spatial and temporal derivatives of the morphogen concentration can play important roles in defining boundaries. Here, we undertake a detailed theoretical and numerical study of the accuracy of patterning-both in space and time-in models where readout is provided not by the morphogen concentration but by its spatial and temporal derivatives. In both cases we find that accurate patterning can be achieved, with sometimes even smaller errors than directly reading the morphogen concentration. We further demonstrate that such models provide other potential benefits to the system, such as the ability to switch on and off gene response with a high degree of spatiotemporal accuracy. Finally, we discuss how such derivatives might be calculated biologically and examine these models in relation to Sonic Hedgehog signaling in the vertebrate central nervous system. We show that, when coupled to a downstream transcriptional network, pre-steady-state measurement of the temporal change in the Shh morphogen is a plausible mechanism for determining precise gene boundaries in both space and time.
Project description:Morphogens are secreted signalling molecules that act in a graded manner to control the pattern of cellular differentiation in developing tissues. An example is Sonic hedgehog (Shh), which acts in several developing vertebrate tissues, including the central nervous system, to provide positional information during embryonic patterning. Here we address how Shh signalling assigns the positional identities of distinct neuronal subtype progenitors throughout the ventral neural tube. Assays of intracellular signal transduction and gene expression indicate that the duration as well as level of signalling is critical for morphogen interpretation. Progenitors of the ventral neuronal subtypes are established sequentially, with progressively more ventral identities requiring correspondingly higher levels and longer periods of Shh signalling. Moreover, cells remain sensitive to changes in Shh signalling for an extended time, reverting to antecedent identities if signalling levels fall below a threshold. Thus, the duration of signalling is important not only for the assignment but also for the refinement and maintenance of positional identity. Together the data suggest a dynamic model for ventral neural tube patterning in which positional information corresponds to the time integral of Shh signalling. This suggests an alternative to conventional models of morphogen action that rely solely on the level of signalling.
Project description:An increasing amount of evidence indicates that developmental programs are tightly regulated by the complex interplay between signaling pathways, as well as transcriptional and epigenetic processes. Here, we have uncovered coordination between transcriptional and morphogen cues to specify Merkel cells, poorly understood skin cells that mediate light touch sensations. In murine dorsal skin, Merkel cells are part of touch domes, which are skin structures consisting of specialized keratinocytes, Merkel cells, and afferent neurons, and are located exclusively around primary hair follicles. We show that the developing primary hair follicle functions as a niche required for Merkel cell specification. We find that intraepidermal Sonic hedgehog (Shh) signaling, initiated by the production of Shh ligand in the developing hair follicles, is required for Merkel cell specification. The importance of Shh for Merkel cell formation is further reinforced by the fact that Shh overexpression in embryonic epidermal progenitors leads to ectopic Merkel cells. Interestingly, Shh signaling is common to primary, secondary, and tertiary hair follicles, raising the possibility that there are restrictive mechanisms that regulate Merkel cell specification exclusively around primary hair follicles. Indeed, we find that loss of Polycomb repressive complex 2 (PRC2) in the epidermis results in the formation of ectopic Merkel cells that are associated with all hair types. We show that PRC2 loss expands the field of epidermal cells competent to differentiate into Merkel cells through the upregulation of key Merkel-differentiation genes, which are known PRC2 targets. Importantly, PRC2-mediated repression of the Merkel cell differentiation program requires inductive Shh signaling to form mature Merkel cells. Our study exemplifies how the interplay between epigenetic and morphogen cues regulates the complex patterning and formation of the mammalian skin structures.
Project description:The gene encoding the secreted protein Sonic hedgehog (Shh) is expressed in the polarizing region (or zone of polarizing activity), a small group of mesenchyme cells at the posterior margin of the vertebrate limb bud. Detailed analyses have revealed that Shh has the properties of the long sought after polarizing region morphogen that specifies positional values across the antero-posterior axis (e.g., thumb to little finger axis) of the limb. Shh has also been shown to control the width of the limb bud by stimulating mesenchyme cell proliferation and by regulating the antero-posterior length of the apical ectodermal ridge, the signaling region required for limb bud outgrowth and the laying down of structures along the proximo-distal axis (e.g., shoulder to digits axis) of the limb. It has been shown that Shh signaling can specify antero-posterior positional values in limb buds in both a concentration- (paracrine) and time-dependent (autocrine) fashion. Currently there are several models for how Shh specifies positional values over time in the limb buds of chick and mouse embryos and how this is integrated with growth. Extensive work has elucidated downstream transcriptional targets of Shh signaling. Nevertheless, it remains unclear how antero-posterior positional values are encoded and then interpreted to give the particular structure appropriate to that position, for example, the type of digit. A distant cis-regulatory enhancer controls limb-bud-specific expression of Shh and the discovery of increasing numbers of interacting transcription factors indicate complex spatiotemporal regulation. Altered Shh signaling is implicated in clinical conditions with congenital limb defects and in the evolution of the morphological diversity of vertebrate limbs.
Project description:Throughout the developing nervous system, neural stem and progenitor cells give rise to diverse classes of neurons and glia in a spatially and temporally coordinated manner. In the ventral spinal cord, much of this diversity emerges through the morphogen actions of Sonic hedgehog (Shh). Interpretation of the Shh gradient depends on both the amount of ligand and duration of exposure, but the mechanisms permitting prolonged responses to Shh are not well understood. We demonstrate that Notch signaling plays an essential role in this process, enabling neural progenitors to attain sufficiently high levels of Shh pathway activity needed to direct the ventral-most cell fates. Notch activity regulates subcellular localization of the Shh receptor Patched1, gating the translocation of the key effector Smoothened to primary cilia and its downstream signaling activities. These data reveal an unexpected role for Notch shaping the interpretation of the Shh morphogen gradient and influencing cell fate determination.
Project description:Inverse gradients of transcriptional repressors antagonize the transcriptional effector response to morphogens. However, the role of such inverse regulation might not manifest solely from lack of repressors. Sonic hedgehog (Shh) patterns the forebrain by being expressed ventrally; however, absence of antagonizing Gli3 repressor paradoxically cause insufficient pathway activation. Interestingly, lack of the primary cilia-localized G-protein-coupled receptor, Gpr161 increases Shh signaling in the mouse neural tube from coordinated lack of Gli3 repressor and Smoothened-independent activation. Here, by deleting Gpr161 in mouse neuroepithelial cells and radial glia at early mid-gestation we detected derepression of Shh signaling throughout forebrain, allowing determination of the pathophysiological consequences. Accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid (hydrocephalus) was apparent by birth, although usual causative defects in multiciliated ependymal cells or aqueduct were not seen. Rather, the ventricular surface was expanded (ventriculomegaly) during embryogenesis from radial glial overproliferation. Cortical phenotypes included polymicrogyria in the medial cingulate cortex, increased proliferation of intermediate progenitors and basal radial glia, and altered neocortical cytoarchitectonic structure with increased upper layer and decreased deep layer neurons. Finally, periventricular nodular heterotopia resulted from disrupted neuronal migration, while the radial glial scaffold was unaffected. Overall, suppression of Shh pathway during early mid-gestation prevents ventricular overgrowth, and regulates cortical gyration and neocortical/periventricular cytoarchitecture.
Project description:Borders are important as they demarcate developing tissue into distinct functional units. A key challenge is the discovery of mechanisms that can convert morphogen gradients into tissue borders. While mechanisms that produce ultrasensitive cellular responses provide a solution, how extracellular morphogens drive such mechanisms remains poorly understood. Here, we show how Bone Morphogenetic Protein (BMP) and Fibroblast Growth Factor (FGF) pathways interact to generate ultrasensitivity and borders in the dorsal telencephalon. BMP and FGF signaling manipulations in explants produced border defects suggestive of cross inhibition within single cells, which was confirmed in dissociated cultures. Using mathematical modeling, we designed experiments that ruled out alternative cross inhibition mechanisms and identified a cross-inhibitory positive feedback (CIPF) mechanism, or "toggle switch", which acts upstream of transcriptional targets in dorsal telencephalic cells. CIPF explained several cellular phenomena important for border formation such as threshold tuning, ultrasensitivity, and hysteresis. CIPF explicitly links graded morphogen signaling in the telencephalon to switch-like cellular responses and has the ability to form multiple borders and scale pattern to size. These benefits may apply to other developmental systems.
Project description:Major developmental morphogens of the Hedgehog (Hh) family act at short range and long range to direct cell fate decisions in vertebrate and invertebrate tissues. To this end, Hhs are released from local sources and act at a distance on target cells that express the Hh receptor Patched. However, morphogen secretion and spreading are not passive processes because all Hhs are synthesized as dually (N- and C-terminal) lipidated proteins that firmly tether to the surface of producing cells. On the cell surface, Hhs associate with each other and with heparan sulfate (HS) proteoglycans. This raises the question of how Hh solubilization and spreading is achieved. We recently discovered that Sonic hedgehog (Shh) is solubilized by proteolytic processing (shedding) of lipidated peptide termini in vitro. Because unprocessed N termini block Patched receptor binding sites in the cluster, we further suggested that their proteolytic removal is required for simultaneous Shh activation. In this work we confirm inactivity of unprocessed protein clusters and demonstrate restored biological Shh function upon distortion or removal of N-terminal amino acids and peptides. We further show that N-terminal Shh processing targets and inactivates the HS binding Cardin-Weintraub (CW) motif, resulting in soluble Shh clusters with their HS binding capacities strongly reduced. This may explain the ability of Shh to diffuse through the HS-containing extracellular matrix, whereas other HS-binding proteins are quickly immobilized. Our in vitro findings are supported by the presence of CW-processed Shh in murine brain samples, providing the first in vivo evidence for Shh shedding and subsequent solubilization of N-terminal-truncated proteins.
Project description:Sonic hedgehog (Shh), both as a mitogen and as a morphogen, plays an important role in cell proliferation and differentiation during early development. Here, we show that Shh inhibits glutamate transporter activities in neurons, rapidly enhances extracellular glutamate levels, and affects the development of epilepsy. Shh is quickly released in response to epileptic, but not physiological, stimuli. Inhibition of neuronal glutamate transporters by Shh depends on heterotrimeric G protein subunit G?i and enhances extracellular glutamate levels. Inhibiting Shh signaling greatly reduces epileptiform activities in both cell cultures and hippocampal slices. Moreover, pharmacological or genetic inhibition of Shh signaling markedly suppresses epileptic phenotypes in kindling or pilocarpine models. Our results suggest that Shh contributes to the development of epilepsy and suppression of its signaling prevents the development of the disease. Thus, Shh can act as a modulator of neuronal activity, rapidly regulating glutamate levels and promoting epilepsy.