Guiding self-organized pattern formation in cell polarity establishment

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Spontaneous pattern formation in Turing systems relies on feedback. Patterns in cells and tissues however often do not form spontaneously, but are under control of upstream pathways that provide molecular guiding cues. The relationship between guiding cues and feedback in controlled biological pattern formation remains unclear. We explored this relationship during cell polarity establishment in the one-cell-stage embryo. We quantified the strength of two feedback systems that operate during polarity establishment, feedback between polarity proteins and the actomyosin cortex, and mutual antagonism amongst polarity proteins. We characterized how these feedback systems are modulated by guiding cues from the centrosome. By coupling a mass-conserved Turing-like reaction-diffusion system for polarity proteins to an active gel description of the actomyosin cortex, we reveal a transition point beyond which feedback ensures self-organized polarization even when cues are removed. Notably, the baton is passed from a guide-dominated to a feedback-dominated regime significantly beyond this transition point, which ensures robustness. Together, this reveals a general criterion for controlling biological pattern forming systems: feedback remains subcritical to avoid unstable behaviour, and molecular guiding cues drive the system beyond a transition point for pattern formation.

Journal details

Journal Nature Physics
Volume 15
Issue number 3
Pages 293-300
Publication date