Precision of morphogen gradients

  • Tobias Bollenbach (MPI for the Physics of Complex Systems)
G3 10 (Lecture hall)


A fundamental problem in the field of animal development is to understand how well-defined cellular patterns can emerge in the presence of fluctuations. A well-established means of tissue patterning is given by morphogens. These are signaling molecules that spread from a restricted source into an adjacent target tissue forming a concentration gradient. The fate of cells in the target tissue is determined by the local concentration of such morphogens. In the presence of fluctuations, it is an important question how precise the positional information encoded in a morphogen gradient can be. Here, we first give a brief introduction to morphogen transport. We then investigate the precision of the gradient of the morphogen Dpp in the Drosophila wing disk both experimentally and theoretically. We measure the normalized fluctuations of the Dpp gradient as a function of the distance to the source. We find that these fluctuations grow monotonously for large distances to the source, while close to the source they can decrease. Our theoretical analysis reveals that cell-to-cell variability in the target tissue can generate the observed behavior of the fluctuations. This suggests that the concentration fluctuations in the gradient reflect the random components of intercellular signaling and transport.