Self-enhanced ligand degradation underlies robustness of morphogen gradients

Avigdor Eldar, Dalia Rosin, Ben Zion Shilo, Naama Barkai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Morphogen gradients provide long-range positional information by extending across a developing field. To ensure reproducible patterning, their profile is invariable despite genetic or environmental fluctuations. Common models assume a morphogen profile that decays exponentially. Here, we show that exponential profiles cannot, at the same time, buffer fluctuations in morphogen production rate and define long-range gradients. To comply with both requirements, morphogens should decay rapidly close to their source but at a significantly slower rate over most of the field. Numerical search revealed two network designs that support robustness to fluctuations in morphogen production rate. In both cases, morphogens enhance their own degradation, leading to a higher degradation rate close to their source. This is achieved through reciprocal interactions between the morphogen and its receptor. The two robust networks are consistent with properties of the Wg and Hh morphogens in the Drosophila wing disc and provide novel insights into their function.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)635-646
Number of pages12
JournalDevelopmental Cell
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2003
Externally publishedYes


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