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Interactions between Nodal and Wnt signalling Drive Robust Symmetry Breaking and Axial Organisation in Gastruloids (Embryonic Organoids)

By D.A. Turner, C.R. Glodowski, L. Alonso-Crisostomo, P. Baillie-Johnson, P.C. Hayward, J. Collignon, C. Gustavsen, P. Serup, C. Schröter, A. Martinez Arias

Posted 04 May 2016
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/051722

Generation of asymmetry within the early embryo is a critical step in the establishment of the three body axes, providing a reference for the patterning of the organism. To study the establishment of asymmetry and the development of the anteroposterior axis (AP) in culture, we utilised our Gastruloid model system. Gastruloids, highly reproducible embryonic organoids formed from aggregates of mouse embryonic stem cells, display symmetry-breaking, polarised gene expression and axial development, mirroring the processes on a time-scale similar to that of the mouse embyro. Using Gastruloids formed from mouse ESCs containing reporters for Wnt, FGF and Nodal signalling, we were able to quantitatively assess the contribution of these signalling pathways to the establishment of asymmetry through single time-point and live-cell fluorescence microscopy. During the first 24-48h of culture, interactions between the Wnt/β-Catenin and Nodal/TGFβ signalling pathways promote the initial symmetry-breaking event, manifested through polarised Brachyury (T/Bra) expression. Neither BMP nor FGF signalling is required for the establishment of asymmetry, however Wnt signalling is essential for the amplification and stability of the initial patterning event. Additionally, low, endogenous levels of FGF (24-48h) has a role in the amplification of the established pattern at later time-points. Our results confirm that Gastruloids behave like epiblast cells in the embryo, leading us to translate the processes and signalling involved in pattern formation of Gastruloids in culture to the development of the embryo, firmly establishing Gastruloids as a highly reproducible, robust model system for studying cell fate decisions and early pattern formation in culture.

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