by Jakob Rosenbauer, Chengting Zhang, Benjamin Mattes, Ines Reinartz, Kyle Wedgwood, Simone Schindler, Claude Sinner, Steffen Scholpp, Alexander Schug
During embryogenesis, morphogens form a concentration gradient in responsive tissue, which is then translated into a spatial cellular pattern. The mechanisms by which morphogens spread through a tissue to establish such a morphogenetic field remain elusive. Here, we investigate by mutually complementary simulations and in vivo experiments how Wnt morphogen transport by cytonemes differs from typically assumed diffusion-based transport for patterning of highly dynamic tissue such as the neural plate in zebrafish. Stochasticity strongly influences fate acquisition at the single cell level and results in fluctuating boundaries between pattern regions. Stable patterning can be achieved by sorting through concentration dependent cell migration and apoptosis, independent of the morphogen transport mechanism. We show that Wnt transport by cytonemes achieves distinct Wnt thresholds for the brain primordia earlier compared with diffusion-based transport. We conclude that a cytoneme-mediated morphogen transport together with directed cell sorting is a potentially favored mechanism to establish morphogen gradients in rapidly expanding developmental systems.