Almuedo-Castillo, M., Bläßle, A., Mörsdorf, D., Marcon, L., Soh, G.H., Rogers, K.W., Schier, A.F., Müller, P. (2018) Scale-invariant patterning by size-dependent inhibition of Nodal signalling. Nature cell biology. 20(9):1032-1042.
Individuals can vary substantially in size, but the proportions of their body plans are often maintained. We generated smaller zebrafish by removing 30% of their cells at the blastula stages and found that these embryos developed into normally patterned individuals. Strikingly, the proportions of all germ layers adjusted to the new embryo size within 2 hours after cell removal. As Nodal-Lefty signalling controls germ-layer patterning, we performed a computational screen for scale-invariant models of this activator-inhibitor system. This analysis predicted that the concentration of the highly diffusive inhibitor Lefty increases in smaller embryos, leading to a decreased Nodal activity range and contracted germ-layer dimensions. In vivo studies confirmed that Lefty concentration increased in smaller embryos, and embryos with reduced Lefty levels or with diffusion-hindered Lefty failed to scale their tissue proportions. These results reveal that size-dependent inhibition of Nodal signalling allows scale-invariant patterning.