Morphogen transport in epithelia

Phys Rev E Stat Nonlin Soft Matter Phys. 2007 Jan;75(1 Pt 1):011901. doi: 10.1103/PhysRevE.75.011901. Epub 2007 Jan 2.


We present a general theoretical framework to discuss mechanisms of morphogen transport and gradient formation in a cell layer. Trafficking events on the cellular scale lead to transport on larger scales. We discuss in particular the case of transcytosis where morphogens undergo repeated rounds of internalization into cells and recycling. Based on a description on the cellular scale, we derive effective nonlinear transport equations in one and two dimensions which are valid on larger scales. We derive analytic expressions for the concentration dependence of the effective diffusion coefficient and the effective degradation rate. We discuss the effects of a directional bias on morphogen transport and those of the coupling of the morphogen and receptor kinetics. Furthermore, we discuss general properties of cellular transport processes such as the robustness of gradients and relate our results to recent experiments on the morphogen Decapentaplegic (Dpp) that acts in the wing disk of the fruit fly Drosophila.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Transport
  • Biophysics / methods*
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Diffusion
  • Drosophila Proteins / metabolism
  • Drosophila melanogaster / metabolism
  • Epithelium / metabolism*
  • Kinetics
  • Ligands
  • Models, Chemical
  • Models, Statistical
  • Signal Transduction
  • Surface Properties


  • Drosophila Proteins
  • Ligands
  • dpp protein, Drosophila