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Nature. 2006 Jun 8;441(7094):719-23.

Noise-resistant and synchronized oscillation of the segmentation clock.

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  • 1Department of Biological Sciences, Graduate School of Science, University of Tokyo, Hongo 7-3-1, Tokyo 113-0033, Japan.


Periodic somite segmentation in vertebrate embryos is controlled by the 'segmentation clock', which consists of numerous cellular oscillators. Although the properties of a single oscillator, driven by a hairy negative-feedback loop, have been investigated, the system-level properties of the segmentation clock remain largely unknown. To explore these characteristics, we have examined the response of a normally oscillating clock in zebrafish to experimental stimuli using in vivo mosaic experiments and mathematical simulation. We demonstrate that the segmentation clock behaves as a coupled oscillator, by showing that Notch-dependent intercellular communication, the activity of which is regulated by the internal hairy oscillator, couples neighbouring cells to facilitate synchronized oscillation. Furthermore, the oscillation phase of individual oscillators fluctuates due to developmental noise such as stochastic gene expression and active cell proliferation. The intercellular coupling was found to have a crucial role in minimizing the effects of this noise to maintain coherent oscillation.

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