Topology and dynamics of the zebrafish segmentation clock core circuit.
ABSTRACT: During vertebrate embryogenesis, the rhythmic and sequential segmentation of the body axis is regulated by an oscillating genetic network termed the segmentation clock. We describe a new dynamic model for the core pace-making circuit of the zebrafish segmentation clock based on a systematic biochemical investigation of the network's topology and precise measurements of somitogenesis dynamics in novel genetic mutants. We show that the core pace-making circuit consists of two distinct negative feedback loops, one with Her1 homodimers and the other with Her7:Hes6 heterodimers, operating in parallel. To explain the observed single and double mutant phenotypes of her1, her7, and hes6 mutant embryos in our dynamic model, we postulate that the availability and effective stability of the dimers with DNA binding activity is controlled in a "dimer cloud" that contains all possible dimeric combinations between the three factors. This feature of our model predicts that Hes6 protein levels should oscillate despite constant hes6 mRNA production, which we confirm experimentally using novel Hes6 antibodies. The control of the circuit's dynamics by a population of dimers with and without DNA binding activity is a new principle for the segmentation clock and may be relevant to other biological clocks and transcriptional regulatory networks.
Project description:Using in vitro and in vivo assays, we define a network of Her/Hes dimers underlying transcriptional negative feedback within the zebrafish segmentation clock. Some of the dimers do not appear to be DNA-binding, whereas those dimers that do interact with DNA have distinct preferences for cis regulatory sequences. Dimerization is specific, with Hes6 serving as the hub of the network. Her1 binds DNA only as a homodimer but will also dimerize with Hes6. Her12 and Her15 bind DNA both as homodimers and as heterodimers with Hes6. Her7 dimerizes strongly with Hes6 and weakly with Her15. This network structure engenders specific network dynamics and imparts greater influence to the Her7 node. Computational analysis supports the hypothesis that Her7 disproportionately influences the availability of Hes6 to heterodimerize with other Her proteins. Genetic experiments suggest that this regulation is important for operation of the network. Her7 therefore has two functions within the zebrafish segmentation clock. Her7 acts directly within the delayed negative feedback as a DNA-binding heterodimer with Hes6. Her7 also has an emergent function, independent of DNA binding, in which it modulates network topology via sequestration of the network hub.
Project description:The oscillations of the somitogenesis clock are linked to the fundamental process of vertebrate embryo segmentation, yet little is known about their generation. In zebrafish, it has been proposed that Her proteins repress the transcription of their own mRNA. However, in its simplest form, this model is incompatible with the fact that morpholino knockdown of Her proteins can impair expression of their mRNA. Simple self-repression models also do not account for the spatiotemporal pattern of gene expression, with waves of gene expression shrinking as they propagate. Here we study computationally the networks generated by the wealth of dimerization possibilities amongst transcriptional repressors in the zebrafish somitogenesis clock. These networks can reproduce knockdown phenotypes, and strongly suggest the existence of a Her1-Her7 heterodimer, so far untested experimentally. The networks are the first reported to reproduce the spatiotemporal pattern of the zebrafish somitogenesis clock; they shed new light on the role of Her13.2, the only known link between the somitogenesis clock and positional information in the paraxial mesoderm. The networks can also account for perturbations of the clock by manipulation of FGF signaling. Achieving an understanding of the interplay between clock oscillations and positional information is a crucial first step in the investigation of the segmentation mechanism.
Project description:Somite segmentation depends on a gene expression oscillator or clock in the posterior presomitic mesoderm (PSM) and on read-out machinery in the anterior PSM to convert the pattern of clock phases into a somite pattern. Notch pathway mutations disrupt somitogenesis, and previous studies have suggested that Notch signalling is required both for the oscillations and for the read-out mechanism. By blocking or overactivating the Notch pathway abruptly at different times, we show that Notch signalling has no essential function in the anterior PSM and is required only in the posterior PSM, where it keeps the oscillations of neighbouring cells synchronized. Using a GFP reporter for the oscillator gene her1, we measure the influence of Notch signalling on her1 expression and show by mathematical modelling that this is sufficient for synchronization. Our model, in which intracellular oscillations are generated by delayed autoinhibition of her1 and her7 and synchronized by Notch signalling, explains the observations fully, showing that there are no grounds to invoke any additional role for the Notch pathway in the patterning of somite boundaries in zebrafish.
Project description:Segmentation of paraxial mesoderm in vertebrates is regulated by a genetic oscillator that manifests as a series of wavelike or cyclic gene expression domains in the embryo. In zebrafish, this oscillator involves members of the Delta/Notch intercellular signaling pathway, and its down-stream targets, the Her family of transcriptional repressors. Loss of function of any one of the genes of this system, such as her7, gives rise to segmentation defects in the posterior trunk and tail, concomitant with a disruption of cyclic expression domains, indicating that the oscillator is required for posterior segmentation. Control of segmentation in the anterior trunk, and its relationship to that of the posterior is, however, not yet well understood. A combined loss of the cyclic Her genes her1 and her7 disrupts segmentation of both anterior and posterior paraxial mesoderm, indicating that her genes function redundantly in anterior segmentation. To test whether this anterior redundancy is specific to the her gene family, or alternatively is a more global feature of the segmentation oscillator, we looked at anterior segmentation after morpholino knock down of the cyclic cell-surface Notch ligand deltaC (dlc), either alone or in combination with her7, or other Delta/Notch pathway genes. We find that dlc is required for coherence of wavelike expression domains of cyclic genes her1 and her7 and maintenance of their expression levels, as well as for cyclic transcription of dlc itself, confirming that dlc is a component of the segmentation oscillator. Dose dependent, posteriorly-restricted segmentation defects were seen in the dlc knock down, and in combination with the deltaD or notch1a mutants. However, combined reduction of function of dlc and her7 results in defective segmentation of both anterior and posterior paraxial mesoderm, and a failure of cyclic expression domains to initiate, similar to loss of both her genes. Thus, anterior segmentation requires the functions of both her and delta family members in a parallel manner, suggesting that the segmentation oscillator operates in paraxial mesoderm along the entire vertebrate axis.
Project description:In the vertebrate embryo, tissue blocks called somites are laid down in head-to-tail succession, a process known as somitogenesis. Research into somitogenesis has been both experimental and mathematical. For zebrafish, there is experimental evidence for oscillatory gene expression in cells in the presomitic mesoderm (PSM) as well as evidence that Notch signalling synchronises the oscillations in neighbouring PSM cells. A biological mechanism has previously been proposed to explain these phenomena. Here we have converted this mechanism into a mathematical model of partial differential equations in which the nuclear and cytoplasmic diffusion of protein and mRNA molecules is explicitly considered. By performing simulations, we have found ranges of values for the model parameters (such as diffusion and degradation rates) that yield oscillatory dynamics within PSM cells and that enable Notch signalling to synchronise the oscillations in two touching cells. Our model contains a Hill coefficient that measures the co-operativity between two proteins (Her1, Her7) and three genes (her1, her7, deltaC) which they inhibit. This coefficient appears to be bounded below by the requirement for oscillations in individual cells and bounded above by the requirement for synchronisation. Consistent with experimental data and a previous spatially non-explicit mathematical model, we have found that signalling can increase the average level of Her1 protein. Biological pattern formation would be impossible without a certain robustness to variety in cell shape and size; our results possess such robustness. Our spatially-explicit modelling approach, together with new imaging technologies that can measure intracellular protein diffusion rates, is likely to yield significant new insight into somitogenesis and other biological processes.
Project description:Gene expression is an inherently stochastic process; however, organismal development and homeostasis require that cells spatiotemporally coordinate the expression of large sets of genes. Coexpressed gene pairs in metazoans often reside in the same chromosomal neighborhood. Gene pairs represent 10% - 50% of all genes depending on species. As correlated gene expression can be solely due to shared upstream regulators, the selective advantage of maintaining adjacent gene pairs remains unknown. We here investigated the transcriptional correlation of her1 and her7, two linked zebrafish segmentation clock genes, in multiple genetic and environmental backgrounds. By combining single-cell transcript counting, genetic engineering, real-time imaging, and computational modeling, we reveal that gene pairing boosts correlated transcription and provides phenotypic robustness for developmental pattern formation. Our results demonstrate that the confluence of gene pairing and negative feedback generates correlated transcription of a rapid developmental clock, which drives oscillations and segmentation. We anticipate that these findings will inspire investigating the advantages of gene pairing in other systems as well as engineering precise synthetic clocks in embryos and organoids.
Project description:Vertebrate embryo somite formation is temporally controlled by the cyclic expression of somitogenesis clock genes in the presomitic mesoderm (PSM). The somitogenesis clock is believed to be an intrinsic property of this tissue, operating independently of embryonic midline structures and the signaling molecules produced therein, namely Sonic hedgehog (Shh). This work revisits the notochord signaling contribution to temporal control of PSM segmentation by assessing the rate and number of somites formed and somitogenesis molecular clock gene expression oscillations upon notochord ablation. The absence of the notochord causes a delay in somite formation, accompanied by an increase in the period of molecular clock oscillations. Shh is the notochord-derived signal responsible for this effect, as these alterations are recapitulated by Shh signaling inhibitors and rescued by an external Shh supply. We have characterized chick smoothened expression pattern and have found that the PSM expresses both patched1 and smoothened Shh signal transducers. Upon notochord ablation, patched1, gli1, and fgf8 are down-regulated, whereas gli2 and gli3 are overexpressed. Strikingly, notochord-deprived PSM segmentation rate recovers over time, concomitant with raldh2 overexpression. Accordingly, exogenous RA supplement rescues notochord ablation effects on somite formation. A model is presented in which Shh and RA pathways converge to inhibit PSM Gli activity, ensuring timely somite formation. Altogether, our data provide evidence that a balance between different pathways ensures the robustness of timely somite formation and that notochord-derived Shh is a component of the molecular network regulating the pace of the somitogenesis clock.
Project description:During vertebrate embryonic development, the formation of axial structures is driven by a population of stem-like cells that reside in a region of the tailbud called the chordoneural hinge (CNH). We have compared the mouse CNH transcriptome with those of surrounding tissues and shown that the CNH and tailbud mesoderm are transcriptionally similar, and distinct from the presomitic mesoderm. Amongst CNH-enriched genes are several that are required for axial elongation, including Wnt3a, Cdx2, Brachyury/T and Fgf8, and androgen/oestrogen receptor nuclear signalling components such as Greb1 We show that the pattern and duration of tailbud Greb1 expression is conserved in mouse, zebrafish and chicken embryos, and that Greb1 is required for axial elongation and somitogenesis in zebrafish embryos. The axial truncation phenotype of Greb1 morphant embryos can be explained by much reduced expression of No tail (Ntl/Brachyury), which is required for axial progenitor maintenance. Posterior segmentation defects in the morphants (including misexpression of genes such as mespb, myoD and papC) appear to result, in part, from lost expression of the segmentation clock gene, her7.
Project description:We recently demonstrated that the gene encoding the RNA binding motif protein 24 (RBM24) is expressed during mouse cardiogenesis, and determined the developmental requirement for its zebrafish homologs Rbm24a and Rbm24b during cardiac development. We demonstrate here that both Rbm24a and Rbm24b are also required for normal somite and craniofacial development. Diminution of rbm24a or rbm24b gene products by morpholino knockdown resulted in significant disruption of somite formation. Detailed in situ hybridization-based analyses of a spectrum of somitogenesis-associated transcripts revealed reduced expression of the cyclic muscle pattering genes dlc and dld encoding Notch ligands, as well as their respective target genes her7, her1. By contrast expression of the Notch receptors notch1a and notch3 appears unchanged. Some RBM-family members have been implicated in pre-mRNA processing. Analysis of affected Notch-pathway mRNAs in rbm24a and rbm24b morpholino-injected embryos revealed aberrant transcript fragments of dlc and dld, but not her1 or her7, suggesting the reduction in transcription levels of Notch pathway components may result from aberrant processing of its ligands. These data imply a previously unknown requirement for Rbm24a and Rbm24b in somite and craniofacial development. Although we anticipate the influence of disrupting RBM24 homologs likely extends beyond the Notch pathway, our results suggest their perturbation may directly, or indirectly, compromise post-transcriptional processing, exemplified by imprecise processing of dlc and dld.
Project description:Sequential production of body segments in vertebrate embryos is regulated by a molecular oscillator (the segmentation clock) that drives cyclic transcription of genes involved in positioning intersegmental boundaries. Mathematical modeling indicates that the period of the clock depends on the total delay kinetics of a negative feedback circuit, including those associated with the synthesis of transcripts encoding clock components [Lewis J (2003) Curr Biol 13(16):1398-1408]. Here, we measure expression delays for three transcripts [Lunatic fringe, Hes7/her1, and Notch-regulated-ankyrin-repeat-protein (Nrarp)], that cycle during segmentation in the zebrafish, chick, and mouse, and provide in vivo measurements of endogenous splicing and export kinetics. We show that mRNA splicing and export are much slower than transcript elongation, with the longest delay (about 16 min in the mouse) being due to mRNA export. We conclude that the kinetics of mRNA and protein production and destruction can account for much of the clock period, and provide strong support for delayed autorepression as the underlying mechanism of the segmentation clock.