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Elife. 2020 Feb 26;9. pii: e53638. doi: 10.7554/eLife.53638.

Ordered patterning of the sensory system is susceptible to stochastic features of gene expression.

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Department of Molecular Biosciences, Northwestern University, Evanston, United States.
NSF-Simons Center for Quantitative Biology, Northwestern University, Evanston, United States.
Max Planck Institute of Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden, Germany.
Department of Engineering Sciences and Applied Mathematics, Northwestern University, Evanston, United States.


Sensory neuron numbers and positions are precisely organized to accurately map environmental signals in the brain. This precision emerges from biochemical processes within and between cells that are inherently stochastic. We investigated impact of stochastic gene expression on pattern formation, focusing on senseless (sens), a key determinant of sensory fate in Drosophila. Perturbing microRNA regulation or genomic location of sens produced distinct noise signatures. Noise was greatly enhanced when both sens alleles were present in homologous loci such that each allele was regulated in trans by the other allele. This led to disordered patterning. In contrast, loss of microRNA repression of sens increased protein abundance but not sensory pattern disorder. This suggests that gene expression stochasticity is a critical feature that must be constrained during development to allow rapid yet accurate cell fate resolution.


D. melanogaster; developmental biology; gene expression; microRNAs; sensory development; stochasticity; transvection

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