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J R Soc Interface. 2019 Sep 27;16(158):20190451. doi: 10.1098/rsif.2019.0451. Epub 2019 Sep 18.

Constraints on somite formation in developing embryos.

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Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, Blegdamsvej 17, Copenhagen 2100, Denmark.
Simons Centre for the Study of Living Machines, National Centre for Biological Sciences, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Bangalore, India.


Segment formation in vertebrate embryos is a stunning example of biological self-organization. Here, we present an idealized framework, in which we treat the presomitic mesoderm (PSM) as a one-dimensional line of oscillators. We use the framework to derive constraints that connect the size of somites, and the timing of their formation, to the growth of the PSM and the gradient of the somitogenesis clock period across the PSM. Our analysis recapitulates the observations made recently in ex vivo cultures of mouse PSM cells, and makes predictions for how perturbations, such as increased Wnt levels, would alter somite widths. Finally, our analysis makes testable predictions for the shape of the phase profile and somite widths at different stages of PSM growth. In particular, we show that the phase profile is robustly concave when the PSM length is steady and slightly convex in an important special case when it is decreasing exponentially. In both cases, the phase profile scales with the PSM length; in the latter case, it scales dynamically. This has important consequences for the velocity of the waves that traverse the PSM and trigger somite formation, as well as the effect of errors in phase measurement on somite widths.


dynamical scaling; oscillators; phase waves; scaling; somites

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