Sync to grow

December 20, 2012

From a single-cell egg to a fully functional body: as embryos develop and grow, they must form organs that are in proportion to the overall size of the embryo. The exact mechanism underlying this fundamental characteristic, called scaling, is still unclear. However, a team of researchers from EMBL Heidelberg is now one step closer to understanding it. They have discovered that scaling of the future vertebrae in a mouse embryo is controlled by how the expression of some specific genes oscillates, in a coordinated way, between neighbouring cells. Published today in Nature, their findings highlight how important this oscillatory pattern, and its regulation, is to ensure that embryos grow up to become well-proportioned animals.

Neighbouring cells in the future vertebral column of an embryo coordinate to turn specific genes on and off in turn, thus generating a wave of gene expression similar to the 'Slide to unlock' animation on your smart phone. To study this process, and determine its impact on how the relative sizes of the future vertebrae are maintained, the researchers developed a new technique.

"Using this new assay, we were able to film this wave of gene expression in real time with high precision, and to identify whether this pattern could change according to the overall size," explains Alexander Aulehla who coordinated the study at EMBL Heidelberg. "There is a clear link: when the embryo is smaller, the number of segments formed remains the same, but each segment is smaller and the expression waves are proportionally slower."

The speed of the wave seems to be the essential characteristic to predict the size of the future vertebra: the faster the wave, the bigger the vertebra. Similar expression waves have been observed in several vertebrates and also in insect species, so this communication pattern amongst embryonic cells seems to be very wide-spread. However, scientists haven't yet elucidated how the speed of the wave is controlled at a molecular level.

The technique developed in this study might be the key to helping the team understand this complex and fundamental mechanism. In order to make observation easier, the scientists grew only one layer of embryonic stem cells to which a specific marker was added, to follow the expression of the Notch genes. The combination of the monolayer and marking made real-time observation of gene expression possible. In the future this new technique might help researchers understand the details of how embryonic cells sync to grow.
-end-


European Molecular Biology Laboratory

Related Embryo Articles from Brightsurf:

Cell diversity in the embryo
Epigenetic factors control the development of an organism.

Epigenetics: What the embryo can teach us about cell reprogramming
Cell reprogramming provides an outstanding opportunity for the artificial generation of stem cells for regenerative medicine approaches in the clinic.

New view on how tissues flow in the embryo
Watching and measuring what happens in tissues inside the human embryo is currently not possible, and it's difficult to do in mammalian models.

Unprecedented single-cell studies in virtual embryo
Researchers from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg and from the University of Padua School of Medicine have created the first complete description of early embryo development, accounting for every single cell in the embryo.

Evaluating embryo quality with ultrasensitive protein detection
Infertility is estimated to affect 9% of reproductive-aged couples globally, and many couples turn to assisted reproductive technology.

Bovine embryo completely regenerates placenta-forming cells
A calf was born from an embryo lacking cells which form a large part of the placenta, providing new insight into the regenerative capacity of mammalian embryos.

Simulations suggest embryo selection based on traits like height or IQ is still far off
The recent live births resulting from human embryonic CRISPR editing have heightened global concerns regarding 'designer babies.' Currently, the most practical approach to genetic 'enhancement' is preimplantation genetic screening of IVF embryos.

Embryo's early development revealed in a dish
Rice University bioscientists develop a method to observe patterns of early embryonic development, during which ectodermal cells diverge toward their fates as skin, organs and the nervous system.

How neural circuits form in a developing embryo
A new imaging method follows young neurons in a developing embryo as they progress from a messy jumble of cells into a coordinated control center.

Do women regret embryo testing before IVF?
By the time a woman is 44 years old, the vast majority of her embryos will be abnormal.

Read More: Embryo News and Embryo Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.