Webb, A.B., Lengyel, I.M., Jörg, D.J., Valentin, G., Jülicher, F., Morelli, L.G., Oates, A.C. (2016) Persistence, period and precision of autonomous cellular oscillators from the zebrafish segmentation clock. eLIFE. 5.
In vertebrate development, the sequential and rhythmic segmentation of the body axis is regulated by a 'segmentation clock.' This clock is comprised of a population of coordinated oscillating cells that together produce rhythmic gene expression patterns in the embryo. Whether individual cells autonomously maintain oscillations, or whether oscillations depend on signals from neighboring cells is unknown. Using a transgenic zebrafish reporter line for the cyclic transcription factor Her1, we recorded single tailbud cells in vitro. We demonstrate that individual cells can behave as autonomous cellular oscillators. We described the observed variability in cell behavior using a theory of generic oscillators with correlated noise. Single cells have longer periods and lower precision than the tissue, highlighting the role of collective processes in the segmentation clock. Our work reveals a population of cells from the zebrafish segmentation clock that behave as self-sustained, autonomous oscillators with distinctive noisy dynamics.