PhD thesis: a PhD thesis.
Robustness of Drosophila early embryo and wing imaginal disc development
Université de Lausanne, Faculté de biologie et médecine
Département de Génétique Médicale Faculté de Biologie et Médecine Université de Lausanne Rue du Bugnon 27 CH- 1005 Lausanne
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Within a developing organism, cells require information on where they are in order to differentiate into the correct cell-type. Pattern formation is the process by which cells acquire and process positional cues and thus determine their fate. This can be achieved by the production and release of a diffusible signaling molecule, called a morphogen, which forms a concentration gradient: exposure to different morphogen levels leads to the activation of specific signaling pathways. Thus, in response to the morphogen gradient, cells start to express different sets of genes, forming domains characterized by a unique combination of differentially expressed genes. As a result, a pattern of cell fates and specification emerges.Though morphogens have been known for decades, it is not yet clear how these gradients form and are interpreted in order to yield highly robust patterns of gene expression. During my PhD thesis, I investigated the properties of Bicoid (Bcd) and Decapentaplegic (Dpp), two morphogens involved in the patterning of the anterior-posterior axis of Drosophila embryo and wing primordium, respectively. In particular, I have been interested in understanding how the pattern proportions are maintained across embryos of different sizes or within a growing tissue. This property is commonly referred to as scaling and is essential for yielding functional organs or organisms. In order to tackle these questions, I analysed fluorescence images showing the pattern of gene expression domains in the early embryo and wing imaginal disc. After characterizing the extent of these domains in a quantitative and systematic manner, I introduced and applied a new scaling measure in order to assess how well proportions are maintained. I found that scaling emerged as a universal property both in early embryos (at least far away from the Bcd source) and in wing imaginal discs (across different developmental stages). Since we were also interested in understanding the mechanisms underlying scaling and how it is transmitted from the morphogen to the target genes down in the signaling cascade, I also quantified scaling in mutant flies where this property could be disrupted. While scaling is largely conserved in embryos with altered bcd dosage, my modeling suggests that Bcd trapping by the nuclei as well as pre-steady state decoding of the morphogen gradient are essential to ensure precise and scaled patterning of the Bcd signaling cascade. In the wing imaginal disc, it appears that as the disc grows, the Dpp response expands and scales with the tissue size. Interestingly, scaling is not perfect at all positions in the field. The scaling of the target gene domains is best where they have a function; Spalt, for example, scales best at the position in the anterior compartment where it helps to form one of the anterior veins of the wing. Analysis of mutants for pentagone, a transcriptional target of Dpp that encodes a secreted feedback regulator of the pathway, indicates that Pentagone plays a key role in scaling the Dpp gradient activity.
Drosophila, Development, Embryo, Wing imaginal disc, Robustness, Precision, Scaling, Modeling, Quantification
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