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Quantitative Insights into Developmental Signals and Phenotypes in C. elegans


Giurumescu, Claudiu Adrian (2008) Quantitative Insights into Developmental Signals and Phenotypes in C. elegans. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/FVD0-R331.


Design of biomaterials and cellular scaffolds for tissue-engineering applications and regenerative medicine requires a precise understanding of the principles underlying multicellular patterning. Adhesion, migration, division, differentiation, and apoptosis are characteristic cellular behaviors, the engineering of which has the potential to allow creation of custom, multicellular structures. These cellular events occur naturally during embryonic and postembryonic development of multicellular organisms. Development thus offers the opportunity to learn about the design principles and molecular mechanisms that guide cellular patterning.

A key finding in developmental biology is that a limited set of conserved molecular signaling pathways act at multiple times and locations throughout the embryo to introduce cell-fate asymmetries in homogenous populations of cells. In turn, these asymmetries serve as starting points for the patterning of new organs. These signaling pathways interact quantitatively at multiple levels, including signaling cues, post-translational regulation, and gene-regulatory networks, to guide multicellular patterning.

How does the quantitative performance of these signaling networks ensure the intended phenotype pattern? How do changes in the quantitative performance of these networks, possibly over the course of evolution, give rise to new phenotypes? These are the central questions pursued in this thesis.

In order to answer such questions, we used vulva formation in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans as a model system of cellular patterning. We formulated a mathematical model of the molecular network underlying cellular-fate specification in this system. Computational analysis of this molecular network reveals that cell–cell coupling through lateral LIN-12/Notch signaling amplifies the perception of the gradient in the epidermal-growth-factor-like soluble cue, LIN-3. Thus, the gradient in LIN-3 concentration produces an even steeper difference in LIN-3-mediated intracellular signals between adjoining cells. Such gradient amplification may be particularly important in converting a shallow, graded-specification signal into a spatial pattern of distinct fate choices.

Through quantitative perturbations of interaction strengths between components of the vulval patterning network, we further show that our modeling approach can correctly predict phenotype patterns observed in C. elegans mutation studies. This study generated a framework for quantitative analysis of molecular networks that links quantitative molecular perturbations to patterning outcomes. This framework will prove useful in the analysis of other systems involving cellular fate decisions and in tissue engineering applications where the generation of precise cell patterns is needed. We demonstrate the generality of our approach through an application to evolutionary developmental biology. Since molecular connectivity of the vulva patterning network of several closely related Caenorhabditis species is preserved, we correctly predict the quantitative diversification that must have occurred in this network during species evolution.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:C. Elegans; cell-cell coupling; developmental patterning; EGF; modeling; Notch
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Chemistry and Chemical Engineering
Major Option:Chemical Engineering
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Asthagiri, Anand R.
Thesis Committee:
  • Asthagiri, Anand R. (chair)
  • Tirrell, David A.
  • Davis, Mark E.
  • Sternberg, Paul W.
  • Wang, Zhen-Gang
Defense Date:31 July 2007
Non-Caltech Author Email:claudiu.giurumescu (AT)
Record Number:CaltechETD:etd-08022007-141737
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:5244
Deposited By: Imported from ETD-db
Deposited On:07 Aug 2007
Last Modified:18 Dec 2019 22:23

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