Variable combinations of specific ephrin ligand/Eph receptor pairs control embryonic tissue separation

Rohani N, Parmeggiani A, Winklbauer R, Fagotto F

PLoS Biol. 2014 Sep;12(9):e1001955

PMID: 25247423


Ephrins and Eph receptors are involved in the establishment of vertebrate tissue boundaries. The complexity of the system is puzzling, however in many instances, tissues express multiple ephrins and Ephs on both sides of the boundary, a situation that should in principle cause repulsion between cells within each tissue. Although co-expression of ephrins and Eph receptors is widespread in embryonic tissues, neurons, and cancer cells, it is still unresolved how the respective signals are integrated into a coherent output. We present a simple explanation for the confinement of repulsion to the tissue interface: Using the dorsal ectoderm-mesoderm boundary of the Xenopus embryo as a model, we identify selective functional interactions between ephrin-Eph pairs that are expressed in partial complementary patterns. The combined repulsive signals add up to be strongest across the boundary, where they reach sufficient intensity to trigger cell detachments. The process can be largely explained using a simple model based exclusively on relative ephrin and Eph concentrations and binding affinities. We generalize these findings for the ventral ectoderm-mesoderm boundary and the notochord boundary, both of which appear to function on the same principles. These results provide a paradigm for how developmental systems may integrate multiple cues to generate discrete local outcomes.

PAPC mediates self/non-self-distinction during Snail1-dependent tissue separation

Luu O, Damm EW, Parent SE, Barua D, Smith TH, Wen JW, Lepage SE, Nagel M, Ibrahim-Gawel H, Huang Y, Bruce AE, Winklbauer R

J. Cell Biol. 2015 Mar;208(6):839-856

PMID: 25778923


Cleft-like boundaries represent a type of cell sorting boundary characterized by the presence of a physical gap between tissues. We studied the cleft-like ectoderm-mesoderm boundary in Xenopus laevis and zebrafish gastrulae. We identified the transcription factor Snail1 as being essential for tissue separation, showed that its expression in the mesoderm depends on noncanonical Wnt signaling, and demonstrated that it enables paraxial protocadherin (PAPC) to promote tissue separation through two novel functions. First, PAPC attenuates planar cell polarity signaling at the ectoderm-mesoderm boundary to lower cell adhesion and facilitate cleft formation. Second, PAPC controls formation of a distinct type of adhesive contact between mesoderm and ectoderm cells that shows properties of a cleft-like boundary at the single-cell level. It consists of short stretches of adherens junction-like contacts inserted between intermediate-sized contacts and large intercellular gaps. These roles of PAPC constitute a self/non-self-recognition mechanism that determines the site of boundary formation at the interface between PAPC-expressing and -nonexpressing cells.