Membraneless organelles play a central role in the organization of protoplasm by concentrating macromolecules, which allows efficient cellular processes. Recent studies have shown that, in vitro, certain components in such organelles can assemble through phase separation. Inside the cell, however, such organelles are multicomponent, with numerous intermolecular interactions that can potentially affect the demixing properties of individual components. In addition, the organelles themselves are inherently active, and it is not clear how the active, energy-consuming processes that occur constantly within such organelles affect the phase separation behavior of the constituent macromolecules. Here, we examine the phase separation model for the formation of membraneless organelles in vivo by assessing the two features that collectively distinguish it from active assembly, namely temperature dependence and reversibility. We use a microfluidic device that allows accurate and rapid manipulation of temperature and examine the quantitative dynamics by which six different nucleolar proteins assemble into the nucleoli of Drosophila melanogaster embryos. Our results indicate that, although phase separation is the main mode of recruitment for four of the studied proteins, the assembly of the other two is irreversible and enhanced at higher temperatures, behaviors indicative of active recruitment to the nucleolus. These two subsets of components differ in their requirements for ribosomal DNA; the two actively assembling components fail to assemble in the absence of ribosomal DNA, whereas the thermodynamically driven components assemble but lose temporal and spatial precision.
Many models of morphogenesis are forced to assume specific mechanical properties of cells, because the actual mechanical properties of living tissues are largely unknown. Here, we measure the rheology of epithelial cells in the cellularizing Drosophila embryo by injecting magnetic particles and studying their response to external actuation. We establish that, on timescales relevant to epithelial morphogenesis, the cytoplasm is predominantly viscous, whereas the cellular cortex is elastic. The timescale of elastic stress relaxation has a lower bound of 4 min, which is comparable to the time required for internalization of the ventral furrow during gastrulation. The cytoplasm was measured to be ∼10(3)-fold as viscous as water. We show that elasticity depends on the actin cytoskeleton and conclude by discussing how these results relate to existing mechanical models of morphogenesis.
The polarity protein Par3/Bazooka (Baz) has been established as a central component of the apical basal polarity system that determines the position of cell-cell junctions in epithelial cells. Consistent with that view, we show that shortly before gastrulation in Drosophila, Baz protein in the mesoderm is down-regulated from junctional sites in response to Snail (Sna) expression. This down-regulation leads to a specific decrease in adherens junctions without affecting other E-Cadherin pools. However, we further show that, interactions between Baz and junctions are not unidirectional. During apical constriction and the internalization of the mesoderm, down-regulation of Baz is transiently blocked as adherens junctions shift apically and are strengthened in response to tension generated by contractile actomyosin. When such junction remodeling is prevented by down-regulating myosin, Baz is lost prematurely in mesodermal epithelium. During such apical shifts, Baz is initially left behind as the junction shifts position, but then re-accumulates at the new location of the junctions. On the dorsal side of the embryo, a similar pattern of myosin activity appears to limit the basal shift in junctions normally driven by Baz that controls epithelium folding. Our results suggest a model where the sensitivity of Baz to Sna expression leads to the Sna-dependent junction disassembly required for a complete epithelium-mesenchymal transition. Meanwhile this loss of Baz-dependent junction maintenance is countered by the myosin-based mechanism which promotes an apical shift and strengthening of junctions accompanied by a transient re-positioning and maintenance of Baz proteins.
During embryogenesis, the initial chromatin state is established during a period of rapid proliferative activity. We have measured with 3-min time resolution how heritable patterns of chromatin structure are initially established and maintained during the midblastula transition (MBT). We find that regions of accessibility are established sequentially, where enhancers are opened in advance of promoters and insulators. These open states are stably maintained in highly condensed mitotic chromatin to ensure faithful inheritance of prior accessibility status across cell divisions. The temporal progression of establishment is controlled by the biological timers that control the onset of the MBT. In general, acquisition of promoter accessibility is controlled by the biological timer that measures the nucleo-cytoplasmic (N:C) ratio, whereas timing of enhancer accessibility is regulated independently of the N:C ratio. These different timing classes each associate with binding sites for two transcription factors, GAGA-factor and Zelda, previously implicated in controlling chromatin accessibility at ZGA.
Actomyosin contractility underlies force generation in morphogenesis ranging from cytokinesis to epithelial extension or invagination. In Drosophila, the cleavage of the syncytial blastoderm is initiated by an actomyosin network at the base of membrane furrows that invaginate from the surface of the embryo. It remains unclear how this network forms and how it affects tissue mechanics. Here, we show that during Drosophila cleavage, myosin recruitment to the cleavage furrows proceeds in temporally distinct phases of tension-driven cortical flow and direct recruitment, regulated by different zygotic genes. We identify the gene dunk, which we show is transiently transcribed when cellularization starts and functions to maintain cortical myosin during the flow phase. The subsequent direct myosin recruitment, however, is Dunk-independent but requires Slam. The Slam-dependent direct recruitment of myosin is sufficient to drive cleavage in the dunk mutant, and the subsequent development of the mutant is normal. In the dunk mutant, cortical myosin loss triggers misdirected flow and disrupts the hexagonal packing of the ingressing furrows. Computer simulation coupled with laser ablation suggests that Dunk-dependent maintenance of cortical myosin enables mechanical tension build-up, thereby providing a mechanism to guide myosin flow and define the hexagonal symmetry of the furrows.
In large-scale mutagenesis screens performed in 1979-1980 at the EMBL in Heidelberg, we isolated mutations affecting the pattern or structure of the larval cuticle in Drosophila. The 600 mutants we characterized could be assigned to 120 genes and represent the majority of such genes in the genome. These mutants subsequently provided a rich resource for understanding many fundamental developmental processes, such as the transcriptional hierarchies controlling segmentation, the establishment of cell states by signaling pathways, and the differentiation of epithelial cells. Most of the Heidelberg genes are now molecularly known, and many of them are conserved in other animals, including humans. Although the screens were initially driven entirely by curiosity, the mutants now serve as models for many human diseases. In this review, we describe the rationale of the screening procedures and provide a classification of the genes on the basis of their initial phenotypes and the subsequent molecular analyses.
Although Snail is essential for disassembly of adherens junctions during epithelial-mesenchymal transitions (EMTs), loss of adherens junctions in Drosophila melanogaster gastrula is delayed until mesoderm is internalized, despite the early expression of Snail in that primordium. By combining live imaging and quantitative image analysis, we track the behavior of E-cadherin-rich junction clusters, demonstrating that in the early stages of gastrulation most subapical clusters in mesoderm not only persist, but move apically and enhance in density and total intensity. All three phenomena depend on myosin II and are temporally correlated with the pulses of actomyosin accumulation that drive initial cell shape changes during gastrulation. When contractile myosin is absent, the normal Snail expression in mesoderm, or ectopic Snail expression in ectoderm, is sufficient to drive early disassembly of junctions. In both cases, junctional disassembly can be blocked by simultaneous induction of myosin contractility. Our findings provide in vivo evidence for mechanosensitivity of cell-cell junctions and imply that myosin-mediated tension can prevent Snail-driven EMT.
Membrane-less organelles are intracellular compartments specialized to carry out specific cellular functions. There is growing evidence supporting the possibility that such organelles form as a new phase, separating from cytoplasm or nucleoplasm. However, a main challenge to such phase separation models is that the initial assembly, or nucleation, of the new phase is typically a highly stochastic process and does not allow for the spatiotemporal precision observed in biological systems. Here, we investigate the initial assembly of the nucleolus, a membrane-less organelle involved in different cellular functions including ribosomal biogenesis. We demonstrate that the nucleolus formation is precisely timed in D. melanogaster embryos and follows the transcription of rRNA. We provide evidence that transcription of rRNA is necessary for overcoming the highly stochastic nucleation step in the formation of the nucleolus, through a seeding mechanism. In the absence of rDNA, the nucleolar proteins studied are able to form high-concentration assemblies. However, unlike the nucleolus, these assemblies are highly variable in number, location, and time at which they form. In addition, quantitative study of the changes in the nucleoplasmic concentration and distribution of these nucleolar proteins in the wild-type embryos is consistent with the role of rRNA in seeding the nucleolus formation.
During early development in Drosophila, the spatial information of maternal gradients is translated into discrete transcriptional states determining cell fate. Information transfer depends on reproducibility of the gradients themselves, as well as the ability of cells to accurately measure and utilize morphogen concentrations in biologically meaning ways. In the following essay, these issues are discussed in context of the Bicoid gradient.
The development of an embryo requires precise spatiotemporal regulation of cellular processes. During Drosophila gastrulation, a precise temporal pattern of cell division is encoded through transcriptional regulation of cdc25(string) in 25 distinct mitotic domains. Using a genetic screen, we demonstrate that the same transcription factors that regulate the spatial pattern of cdc25(string) transcription encode its temporal activation. We identify buttonhead and empty spiracles as the major activators of cdc25(string) expression in mitotic domain 2. The effect of these activators is balanced through repression by hairy, sloppy paired 1, and huckebein. Within the mitotic domain, temporal precision of mitosis is robust and unaffected by changing dosage of rate-limiting transcriptional factors. However, precision can be disrupted by altering the levels of the two activators or two repressors. We propose that the additive and balanced action of activators and repressors is a general strategy for precise temporal regulation of cellular transitions during development.
During the maternal-to-zygotic transition (MZT), major changes in cell cycle regulation coincide with large-scale zygotic genome activation. In this chapter, we discuss the current understanding of how the cell cycle is remodeled over the course of the Drosophila MZT, and how the temporal precision of this event is linked to contemporaneous alterations in genome-wide chromatin structure and transcriptional activity. The cell cycle is initially lengthened during the MZT by activation of the DNA replication checkpoint but, subsequently, zygotically supplied factors are essential for establishing lasting modifications to the cell cycle.
The eggshells of drosophilid species provide a powerful model for studying the origins of morphological diversity. The dorsal appendages, or respiratory filaments, of these eggshells display a remarkable interspecies variation in number and shape, and the epithelial patterning underlying the formation of these structures is an area of active research. To extend the analysis of dorsal appendage formation to include morphogenesis, we developed an improved 3D image reconstruction approach. This approach revealed considerable interspecies variation in the cell shape changes and neighbor exchanges underlying appendage formation. Specifically, although the appendage floor in Drosophila melanogaster is formed through spatially ordered neighbor exchanges, the same structure in Scaptodrosophila pattersoni is formed through extreme changes in cell shape, whereas Drosophila funebris appears to display a combination of both cellular mechanisms. Furthermore, localization patterns of Par3/Bazooka suggest a self-organized, cell polarity-based origin for the variability of appendage number in S. pattersoni. Our results suggest that species deploy different combinations of apically and basally driven mechanisms to convert a two-dimensional primordium into a three-dimensional structure, and provide new directions for exploring the molecular origins of interspecies morphological variation.
Messenger RNA localization is a conserved mechanism for spatial control of protein synthesis, with key roles in generating cellular and developmental asymmetry. Whereas different transcripts may be targeted to the same subcellular domain, the extent to which their localization is coordinated is unclear. Using quantitative single-molecule imaging, we analysed the assembly of Drosophila germ plasm mRNA granules inherited by nascent germ cells. We find that the germ-cell-destined transcripts nanos, cyclin B and polar granule component travel within the oocyte as ribonucleoprotein particles containing single mRNA molecules but co-assemble into multi-copy heterogeneous granules selectively at the posterior of the oocyte. The stoichiometry and dynamics of assembly indicate a defined stepwise sequence. Our data suggest that co-packaging of these transcripts ensures their effective segregation to germ cells. In contrast, compartmentalization of the germline determinant oskar mRNA into different granules limits its entry into germ cells. This exclusion is required for proper germline development.
A conserved feature of the midblastula transition (MBT) is a requirement for a functional DNA replication checkpoint to coordinate cell-cycle remodeling and zygotic genome activation (ZGA). We have investigated what triggers this checkpoint during Drosophila embryogenesis. We find that the magnitude of the checkpoint scales with the quantity of transcriptionally engaged DNA. Measuring RNA polymerase II (Pol II) binding at 20 min intervals over the course of ZGA reveals that the checkpoint coincides with widespread de novo recruitment of Pol II that precedes and does not require a functional checkpoint. This recruitment drives slowing or stalling of DNA replication at transcriptionally engaged loci. Reducing Pol II recruitment in zelda mutants both reduces replication stalling and bypasses the requirement for a functional checkpoint. This suggests a model where the checkpoint functions as a feedback mechanism to remodel the cell cycle in response to nascent ZGA.
Epithelial folding mediated by apical constriction converts flat epithelial sheets into multilayered, complex tissue structures and is used throughout development in most animals. Little is known, however, about how forces produced near the apical surface of the tissue are transmitted within individual cells to generate the global changes in cell shape that characterize tissue deformation. Here we apply particle tracking velocimetry in gastrulating Drosophila embryos to measure the movement of cytoplasm and plasma membrane during ventral furrow formation. We find that cytoplasmic redistribution during the lengthening phase of ventral furrow formation can be precisely described by viscous flows that quantitatively match the predictions of hydrodynamics. Cell membranes move with the ambient cytoplasm, with little resistance to, or driving force on, the flow. Strikingly, apical constriction produces similar flow patterns in mutant embryos that fail to form cells before gastrulation ('acellular' embryos), such that the global redistribution of cytoplasm mirrors the summed redistribution occurring in individual cells of wild-type embryos. Our results indicate that during the lengthening phase of ventral furrow formation, hydrodynamic behaviour of the cytoplasm provides the predominant mechanism transmitting apically generated forces deep into the tissue and that cell individualization is dispensable.
During Drosophila gastrulation, the ventral mesodermal cells constrict their apices, undergo a series of coordinated cell-shape changes to form a ventral furrow (VF) and are subsequently internalized. Although it has been well documented that apical constriction is necessary for VF formation, the mechanism by which apical constriction transmits forces throughout the bulk tissue of the cell remains poorly understood. In this work, we develop a computational vertex model to investigate the role of the passive mechanical properties of the cellular blastoderm during gastrulation. We introduce to our knowledge novel data that confirm that the volume of apically constricting cells is conserved throughout the entire course of invagination. We show that maintenance of this constant volume is sufficient to generate invagination as a passive response to apical constriction when it is combined with region-specific elasticities in the membranes surrounding individual cells. We find that the specific sequence of cell-shape changes during VF formation is critically controlled by the stiffness of the lateral and basal membrane surfaces. In particular, our model demonstrates that a transition in basal rigidity is sufficient to drive VF formation along the same sequence of cell-shape change that we observed in the actual embryo, with no active force generation required other than apical constriction.
Understanding the cellular and mechanical processes that underlie the shape changes of individual cells and their collective behaviors in a tissue during dynamic and complex morphogenetic events is currently one of the major frontiers in developmental biology. The advent of high-speed time-lapse microscopy and its use in monitoring the cellular events in fluorescently labeled developing organisms demonstrate tremendous promise in establishing detailed descriptions of these events and could potentially provide a foundation for subsequent hypothesis-driven research strategies. However, obtaining quantitative measurements of dynamic shapes and behaviors of cells and tissues in a rapidly developing metazoan embryo using time-lapse 3D microscopy remains technically challenging, with the main hurdle being the shortage of robust imaging processing and analysis tools. We have developed EDGE4D, a software tool for segmenting and tracking membrane-labeled cells using multi-photon microscopy data. Our results demonstrate that EDGE4D enables quantification of the dynamics of cell shape changes, cell interfaces and neighbor relations at single-cell resolution during a complex epithelial folding event in the early Drosophila embryo. We expect this tool to be broadly useful for the analysis of epithelial cell geometries and movements in a wide variety of developmental contexts.
Covalent modification cycles (systems in which the activity of a substrate is regulated by the action of two opposing enzymes) and ligand/receptor interactions are ubiquitous in signaling systems and their steady-state properties are well understood. However, the behavior of such systems far from steady state remains unclear. Here, we analyze the properties of covalent modification cycles and ligand/receptor interactions driven by the accumulation of the activating enzyme and the ligand, respectively. We show that for a large range of parameters both systems produce sharp switchlike response and yet allow for temporal integration of the signal, two desirable signaling properties. Ultrasensitivity is observed also in a region of parameters where the steady-state response is hyperbolic. The temporal integration properties are tunable by regulating the levels of the deactivating enzyme and receptor, as well as by adjusting the rate of accumulation of the activating enzyme and ligand. We propose that this tunability is used to generate precise responses in signaling systems.
In most metazoans, early embryonic development is characterized by rapid mitotic divisions that are controlled by maternal mRNAs and proteins that accumulate during oogenesis. These rapid divisions pause at the midblastula transition (MBT), coinciding with a dramatic increase in gene transcription and the degradation of a subset of maternal mRNAs. In Drosophila, the cell-cycle pause is controlled by inhibitory phosphorylation of Cdk1, which in turn is driven by downregulation of the activating Cdc25 phosphatases. Here, we show that the two Drosophila Cdc25 homologs, String and Twine, differ in their dynamics and that, contrary to current models, their downregulations are not controlled by mRNA degradation but through different posttranslational mechanisms. The degradation rate of String protein gradually increases during the late syncytial cycles in a manner dependent on the nuclear-to-cytoplasmic ratio and on the DNA replication checkpoints. Twine, on the other hand, is targeted for degradation at the onset of the MBT through a switch-like mechanism controlled, like String, by the nuclear-to-cytoplasmic ratio, but not requiring the DNA replication checkpoints. We demonstrate that posttranslational control of Twine degradation ensures that the proper number of mitoses precede the MBT.
Morphogenesis of the respiratory appendages on eggshells of Drosophila species provides a powerful experimental system for studying how cell sheets give rise to complex three-dimensional structures. In Drosophila melanogaster, each of the two tubular eggshell appendages is derived from a primordium comprising two distinct cell types. Using live imaging and three-dimensional image reconstruction, we demonstrate that the transformation of this two-dimensional primordium into a tube involves out-of-plane bending followed by a sequence of spatially ordered cell intercalations. These morphological transformations correlate with the appearance of complementary distributions of myosin and Bazooka in the primordium. These distributions suggest that a two-dimensional pattern of line tensions along cell-cell edges on the apical side of the epithelium is sufficient to produce the observed changes in morphology. Computational modeling shows that this mechanism could explain the main features of tissue deformation and cell rearrangements observed during three-dimensional morphogenesis.