Establishment of spatial pattern

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21 Citations (SciVal)


An overview and perspective are presented of mechanisms for the development of spatial pattern in animal embryos. It is intended both for new entrants to developmental biology and for specialists in other fields, with only a basic knowledge of animal life cycles being required. The first event of pattern formation is normally the localization of a cytoplasmic determinant in the egg, either during oogenesis or post-fertilization. Following cleavage to a multicellular stage, some cells contain the determinant and others do not. The determinant confers a specific developmental pathway on the cells that contain it, often making them the source of the first extracellular signal, or inducing factor. Inducing factors often form concentration gradients to which cells respond by up or downregulating genes at various concentration thresholds. This enables an initial situation consisting of two cell states (with or without the determinant) to generate a multistate pattern. Multiple rounds of gradient signaling, interspersed with phases of morphogenetic movements, can generate a complex pattern using a small number of signals and responding genes. Development proceeds in a hierarchical manner, with broad body subdivisions being specified initially, and becoming successively subdivided to give individual organs and tissues composed of multiple cell types in a characteristic arrangement. Double gradient models can account for embryonic regulation, whereby a similarly proportioned body pattern is formed following removal of material. Processes that are involved at the later stages include the formation of repeating structures by the combination of an oscillator with a gradient, and the formation of tissues with one cell type scattered in a background of another through a process called lateral inhibition. This set of processes make up a 'developmental toolkit' which can be deployed in various sequences and combinations to generate a very wide variety of structures and cell types.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)379-388
Number of pages10
JournalWiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Developmental Biology
Issue number6
Early online date31 Jul 2014
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2014


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