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Cell‐Surface Bound Nonreceptors and Signaling Morphogen Gradients


The patterning of many developing tissues is orchestrated by gradients of signaling morphogens. Included among the molecular events that drive the formation of morphogen gradients are a variety of elaborate regulatory interactions. Such interactions are thought to make gradients robust, i.e. insensitive to change in the face of genetic or environmental perturbations. But just how this is accomplished is a major unanswered question. Recently extensive numerical simulations suggest that robustness of signaling gradients can be achieved through morphogen degradation mediated by cell surface bound non-signaling receptor molecules (or nonreceptors for short) such as heparan sulfate proteoglycans (HSPG). The present paper provides a mathematical validation of the results from the aforementioned numerical experiments. Extension of a basic extracellular model to include reversible binding with nonreceptors synthesized at a prescribed rate and mediated morphogen degradation shows that the signaling gradient diminishes with increasing concentration of cell-surface nonreceptors. Perturbation and asymptotic solutions obtained for i) low (receptor and nonreceptor) occupancy, and ii) high nonreceptor concntration permit more explicit delineation of the effects of nonreceptors on signaling gradients and facilitate the identification of scenarios in which the presence of nonreceptors may or may not be effective in promoting robustness.

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