Signal gradients encode instructive information for numerous decision-making processes during embryonic development. A striking example of precise, scalable tissue-level patterning is the segmentation of somites—the precursors of the vertebral column—during which the fibroblast growth factor (FGF), Wnt, and retinoic acid (RA) pathways establish spatial gradients. Despite decades of studies proposing roles for all three pathways, the dynamic feature of these gradients that encodes instructive information determining segment sizes remained elusive. We developed a non-elongating tail explant system, integrated quantitative measurements with computational modeling, and tested alternative models to show that positional information is encoded solely by spatial fold change (SFC) in FGF signal output. Neighboring cells measure SFC to accurately position the determination front and thus determine segment size. The SFC model successfully recapitulates results of spatiotemporal perturbation experiments on both explants and intact embryos, and it shows that Wnt signaling acts permissively upstream of FGF signaling and that RA gradient is dispensable. Simsek et al. use an elongation-arrested 3D explant system, integrated with quantitative measurements and computational modeling, to show that positional information for segmentation is encoded solely by spatial fold change (SFC) in FGF signal output. Neighboring cells measure SFC to accurately determine somite segment sizes. Wnt signaling acts permissively upstream of FGF signaling.
Simsek, M. F., & Özbudak, E. M. (2018). Spatial Fold Change of FGF Signaling Encodes Positional Information for Segmental Determination in Zebrafish. Cell Reports, 24(1), 66-78.e8. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.celrep.2018.06.023