Date Published:JUN 29 2015
Transient activation of the highly conserved extracellular-signal-regulated kinase (ERK) establishes precise patterns of cell fates in developing tissues. Quantitative parameters of these transients are essentially unknown, but a growing number of studies suggest that changes in these parameters can lead to a broad spectrum of developmental abnormalities. We provide a detailed quantitative picture of an ERK-dependent inductive signaling event in the early Drosophila embryo, an experimental system that offers unique opportunities for high-throughput studies of developmental signaling. Our analysis reveals a spatiotemporal pulse of ERK activation that is consistent with a model in which transient production of a short-ranged ligand feeds into a simple signal interpretation system. The pulse of ERK signaling acts as a switch in controlling the expression of the ERK target gene. The quantitative approach that led to this model, based on the integration of data from fixed embryos and live imaging, can be extended to other developmental systems patterned by transient inductive signals.