Systems control of BMP morphogen flow in vertebrate embryos
Embryonic morphogenetic programs coordinate cell behavior to ensure robust pattern formation. Having identified components of those programs by molecular genetics, developmental biology is now borrowing concepts and tools from systems biology to decode their regulatory logic. Dorsal–ventral (D–V) patterning of the frog gastrula by Bone Morphogenetic Proteins (BMPs) is one of the best studied examples of a self-regulating embryonic patterning system. Embryological analyses and mathematical modeling are revealing that the BMP activity gradient is maintained by a directed flow of BMP ligands towards the ventral side. Pattern robustness is ensured through feedback control of the levels of extracellular BMP pathway modulators that adjust the flow to the dimensions of the embryonic field.