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Curr Opin Genet Dev. 2007 Aug;17(4):264-71. Epub 2007 Jul 23.

Understanding morphogen gradients: a problem of dispersion and containment.

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Department of Biochemistry & Biophysics, University of California, San Francisco, CA 94158, United States.


Protein morphogens are instructive signals that regulate growth and patterning of tissues and organs. They form long-range, dynamic gradients by moving from regions of high concentration (producing cells) to regions of low concentration (the adjacent, nonproducing developmental field). Since morphogen activity must be limited to the adjacent target field, we want to understand both how signaling proteins move and how their dispersion is restricted. We consider the variety of settings for long-range morphogen systems in Drosophila. In the early embryo, morphogens appear to disperse by free diffusion, and impermeable membranes physically constrain them. However, at later stages, containment is achieved without physical barriers. We argue that in the absence of constraining barriers, gradient-generating dispersion of morphogens cannot be achieved by passive diffusion and that other mechanisms for distribution must be considered.

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