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Gap junctions in Turing-type periodic feather pattern formation.

PLoS Biology 2024 May 15
Periodic patterning requires coordinated cell-cell interactions at the tissue level. Turing showed, using mathematical modeling, how spatial patterns could arise from the reactions of a diffusive activator-inhibitor pair in an initially homogenous 2D field. Most activators and inhibitors studied in biological systems are proteins, and the roles of cell-cell interaction, ions, bioelectricity, etc. are only now being identified. Gap junctions (GJs) mediate direct exchanges of ions or small molecules between cells, enabling rapid long-distance communications in a cell collective. They are therefore good candidates for propagating nonprotein-based patterning signals that may act according to the Turing principles. Here, we explore the possible roles of GJs in Turing-type patterning using feather pattern formation as a model. We found 7 of the 12 investigated GJ isoforms are highly dynamically expressed in the developing chicken skin. In ovo functional perturbations of the GJ isoform, connexin 30, by siRNA and the dominant-negative mutant applied before placode development led to disrupted primary feather bud formation. Interestingly, inhibition of gap junctional intercellular communication (GJIC) in the ex vivo skin explant culture allowed the sequential emergence of new feather buds at specific spatial locations relative to the existing primary buds. The results suggest that GJIC may facilitate the propagation of long-distance inhibitory signals. Thus, inhibition of GJs may stimulate Turing-type periodic feather pattern formation during chick skin development, and the removal of GJ activity would enable the emergence of new feather buds if the local environment were competent and the threshold to form buds was reached. We further propose Turing-based computational simulations that can predict the sequential appearance of these ectopic buds. Our models demonstrate how a Turing activator-inhibitor system can continue to generate patterns in the competent morphogenetic field when the level of intercellular communication at the tissue scale is modulated.

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