Intra-membrane ligand diffusion and cell shape modulate juxtacrine patterning

S.D. Webb, M.R. Owen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


A key problem in developmental biology is how pattern and planar polarity are transmitted in epithelial structures. Examples include Drosophila neuronal differentiation, ommatidia formation in the compound eye, and wing hair polarization. A key component for the generation of such patterns is direct cell-cell signalling by transmembrane ligands, called juxtacrine signalling. Previous models for this mode of communication have considered homogeneous distributions in the cell membrane, and the role of polarity has been largely ignored. In this paper we determine the role of inhomogeneous protein and receptor distributions in juxtacrine signalling. We explicitly include individual membrane segments, diffusive transport of proteins and receptors between these segments, and production terms with a combination of local and global responses to ligand binding. Our analysis shows that intra-membrane ligand transport is vital for the generation of long wavelength patterns. Moreover, with no ligand transport, there is no pattern formation for lateral induction, a process in which receptor activation up-regulates ligand production. Biased production of ligand also modulates patterning bifurcations and predicted wavelengths. In addition, biased ligand and receptor trafficking can lead to regular polarity across a lattice, in which each cell has the same orientation - directly analogous to patterns of hairs in the Drosophila wing. We confirm the trends in pattern wavelengths previously observed for patterns with cellular homogeneity - lateral inhibition tends to give short-range patterns, while lateral induction can give patterns with much longer wavelengths. Moreover, the original model can be recovered if intra-membrane bound receptor diffusion is included and rapid equilibriation between the sides is considered. Finally, we consider the role of irregular cell shapes and waves in such networks, including wave propagation past clones of non-signalling cells.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)99-117
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Theoretical Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2004


  • delta-notch
  • juxtacrine
  • lateral inhibition
  • morphogenesis
  • polarity


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