When embryonic cells get the signal to specialize the call can come quickly. Or it can arrive slowly. Now, new research from Rockefeller University suggests the speed at which a cell in an embryo receives that signal has an unexpected influence on that cell’s fate. Until now, only concentration of the chemical signals was thought to matter in determining if the cell would become, for example, muscle, skin, brain or bone.
“It turns out that if ramped up slowly enough an otherwise potent signal elicits no response from the receiving cells. Meanwhile, a pulsing, on-off signal appears to have a stronger effect than a constant one,” says researcher Ali Brivanlou, Robert and Harriet Heilbrunn Professor and head of the Laboratory of Molecular Vertebrate Embryology. This research is the latest collaboration between Brivanlou and Eric Siggia, Viola Ward Brinning and Elbert Calhoun Brinning Professor at Rockefeller’s Center for Studies in Physics and Biology.
“Until now, it has not been feasible to test how speed or other temporal dynamics affect a cell’s response to a signal. However, by adapting technology that allows for very precise control over these aspects, we found unequivocal evidence that signal level alone does not determine a cell’s fate. Its presentation is also extremely important,” Siggia says.
Together, the team dubbed their discovery “speed fating.” Their work will be published in August in Developmental Cell.
Biologists know a cell determines its location in an embryo and, as a result, its future role, based on chemical cues from its neighbors. About 50 years ago, the developmental biologist Lewis Wolpert proposed that this determination hinges on the concentration of the signal to which a cell is exposed: Go above a certain threshold and you get one fate, below and you get a second. His proposal is known as the French flag model, after a tri-color graph used to represent three cell fates based on those cells’ positions with respect to the source of the signal.
Prior work from Brivanlou and Siggia had cast doubt on the sole importance of concentration. Using a common developmental signaling pathway known as TGF-β, the team documented what is known as an adaptive response from cells exposed to TGF-β signaling molecules. This response peaked then declined over time, even though the signaling molecules remained present. (Think of how a constant noise eventually blends into the background.) If concentration was the sole factor responsible for a response, then the response should have continued as long as the signal was present.
To follow up on this work, Benoit Sorre, a former Rockefeller postdoc now at the University of Paris Diderot, adapted a system that makes use of miniaturized networks of pipes, pumps, valves and sample chambers all under computer control. For experiments, he teamed up with Aryeh Warmflash, the postdoc who lead the previous TGF-β work.
Together, they worked with mouse cells that have the potential to differentiate into muscle, or cartilage and bone. Progenitor cells like these, which can differentiate into a limited set of tissues, are the offspring of stem cells. In experiments using Sorre’s new system, the researchers exposed these progenitor cells to signaling molecules from the TGF-β pathway, and then recorded the cells’ responses to see if the signal activated the pathway that leads them to choose a fate.
Sorre and Warmflash started with a continuous signal. As Warmflash’s previous work suggested, this finger-stuck-on-the-buzzer approach did not produce a continuous response from the cells. Instead, the response declined. A second set of tests showed a series of brief pulses of signal produced a greater response than one continuous signal.
Gradually increasing the concentration of the signal, however, appeared to have the opposite effect. The researchers ramped up the concentration of the signal over periods as brief as five hours or as long as 40 hours. The longer the period and the slower the rate of increase, the weaker the cells’ response. The cells subjected to a 40-hour run barely registered at all.
Based on these experiments, the team formulated a mathematical model to describe how a cell in an embryo may infer its position in relation to the source of the signal. In this way, the research offers a new take on the French flag model: It is still true that the fates of three cells can be mapped out based on their position, but the cells appear to arrive at these fates more rapidly than previously thought, thanks to the adaptive response that takes into account both the level and speed of a signal.
“This finding is another instance of a productive collaboration between biologists and physicists. Neither group, biologists or physicists, could have realized this result working alone,” Siggia says.
Zach Veilleux | newswise
Enduring cold temperatures alters fat cell epigenetics
19.04.2018 | University of Tokyo
Full of hot air and proud of it
18.04.2018 | University of Pittsburgh
Study published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces is the outcome of an international effort that included teams from Dresden and Berlin in Germany, and the US.
Scientists at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) together with colleagues from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) and the University of Virginia...
Novel highly efficient and brilliant gamma-ray source: Based on model calculations, physicists of the Max PIanck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg propose a novel method for an efficient high-brilliance gamma-ray source. A giant collimated gamma-ray pulse is generated from the interaction of a dense ultra-relativistic electron beam with a thin solid conductor. Energetic gamma-rays are copiously produced as the electron beam splits into filaments while propagating across the conductor. The resulting gamma-ray energy and flux enable novel experiments in nuclear and fundamental physics.
The typical wavelength of light interacting with an object of the microcosm scales with the size of this object. For atoms, this ranges from visible light to...
Stable joint cartilage can be produced from adult stem cells originating from bone marrow. This is made possible by inducing specific molecular processes occurring during embryonic cartilage formation, as researchers from the University and University Hospital of Basel report in the scientific journal PNAS.
Certain mesenchymal stem/stromal cells from the bone marrow of adults are considered extremely promising for skeletal tissue regeneration. These adult stem...
In the fight against cancer, scientists are developing new drugs to hit tumor cells at so far unused weak points. Such a “sore spot” is the protein complex...
In an article that appears in the journal “Review of Modern Physics”, researchers at the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics (LAP) assess the current state of the field of ultrafast physics and consider its implications for future technologies.
Physicists can now control light in both time and space with hitherto unimagined precision. This is particularly true for the ability to generate ultrashort...
13.04.2018 | Event News
12.04.2018 | Event News
09.04.2018 | Event News
19.04.2018 | Materials Sciences
19.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
19.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy