Intracellular morphogens: Specifying patterns at the subcellular scale
© 2019 Elsevier Inc. The notion that graded distributions of signals underlie the spatial organization of biological systems has long been a central pillar in the fields of cell and developmental biology. During morphogenesis, morphogens spread across tissues to guide development of the embryo. Similarly, a variety of dynamic gradients and pattern-forming networks have been discovered that shape subcellular organization. Here we discuss the principles of intracellular pattern formation by these intracellular morphogens and relate them to conceptually similar processes operating at the tissue scale. We will specifically review mechanisms for generating cellular asymmetry and consider how intracellular patterning networks are controlled and adapt to cellular geometry. Finally, we assess the general concept of intracellular gradients as a mechanism for positional control in light of current data, highlighting how the simple readout of fixed concentration thresholds fails to fully capture the complexity of spatial patterning processes occurring inside cells.