Modeling the bicoid gradient: diffusion and reversible nuclear trapping of a stable protein

Dev Biol. 2007 Dec 15;312(2):623-30. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2007.09.058. Epub 2007 Oct 6.


The Bicoid gradient in the Drosophila embryo provided the first example of a morphogen gradient studied at the molecular level. The exponential shape of the Bicoid gradient had always been interpreted within the framework of the localized production, diffusion, and degradation model. We propose an alternative mechanism, which assumes no Bicoid degradation. The medium where the Bicoid gradient is formed and interpreted is very dynamic. Most notably, the number of nuclei changes over three orders of magnitude from fertilization, when Bicoid synthesis is initiated, to nuclear cycle 14 when most of the measurements were taken. We demonstrate that a model based on Bicoid diffusion and nucleocytoplasmic shuttling in the presence of the growing number of nuclei can account for most of the properties of the Bicoid concentration profile. Consistent with experimental observations, the Bicoid gradient in our model is established before nuclei migrate to the periphery of the embryo and remains stable during subsequent nuclear divisions.

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Animals
  • Body Patterning
  • Cell Division
  • Cell Nucleus / metabolism*
  • Drosophila / embryology*
  • Drosophila / metabolism
  • Drosophila Proteins
  • Homeodomain Proteins / chemistry
  • Homeodomain Proteins / metabolism*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Trans-Activators / chemistry
  • Trans-Activators / metabolism*


  • Drosophila Proteins
  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • Trans-Activators
  • bcd protein, Drosophila