The Francis Crick Institute
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A framework for quantification and physical modeling of cell mixing applied to oscillator synchronization in vertebrate somitogenesis

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journal contribution
posted on 2020-10-15, 09:58 authored by Koichiro Uriu, Rajasekaran Bhavna, Andrew C Oates, Luis G Morelli
© 2017, Company of Biologists Ltd. All rights reserved. In development and disease, cells move as they exchange signals. One example is found in vertebrate development, during which the timing of segment formation is set by a ‘segmentation clock’, in which oscillating gene expression is synchronized across a population of cells by Delta-Notch signaling. Delta-Notch signaling requires local cell-cell contact, but in the zebrafish embryonic tailbud, oscillating cells move rapidly, exchanging neighbors. Previous theoretical studies proposed that this relative movement or cell mixing might alter signaling and thereby enhance synchronization. However, it remains unclear whether the mixing timescale in the tissue is in the right range for this effect, because a framework to reliably measure the mixing timescale and compare it with signaling timescale is lacking. Here, we develop such a framework using a quantitative description of cell mixing without the need for an external reference frame and constructing a physical model of cell movement based on the data. Numerical simulations show that mixing with experimentally observed statistics enhances synchronization of coupled phase oscillators, suggesting that mixing in the tailbud is fast enough to affect the coherence of rhythmic gene expression. Our approach will find general application in analyzing the relative movements of communicating cells during development and disease.