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Chapter 7 Visualizing retinoic acid morphogen gradients


Morphogens were originally defined as secreted signaling molecules that diffuse from local sources to form concentration gradients, which specify multiple cell fates. More recently morphogen gradients have been shown to incorporate a range of mechanisms including short-range signal activation, transcriptional/translational feedback, and temporal windows of target gene induction. Many critical cell-cell signals implicated in both embryonic development and disease, such as Wnt, fibroblast growth factor (Fgf), hedgehog (Hh), transforming growth factor beta (TGFb), and retinoic acid (RA), are thought to act as morphogens, but key information on signal propagation and ligand distribution has been lacking for most. The zebrafish provides unique advantages for genetics and imaging to address gradients during early embryonic stages when morphogens help establish major body axes. This has been particularly informative for RA, where RA response elements (RAREs) driving fluorescent reporters as well as Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer (FRET) reporters of receptor binding have provided evidence for gradients, as well as regulatory mechanisms that attenuate noise and enhance gradient robustness in vivo. Here we summarize available tools in zebrafish and discuss their utility for studying dynamic regulation of RA morphogen gradients, through combined experimental and computational approaches.

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