Theoretical and experimental approaches to understand morphogen gradients

Mol Syst Biol. 2008;4:176. doi: 10.1038/msb.2008.14. Epub 2008 Mar 25.


Morphogen gradients, which specify different fates for cells in a direct concentration-dependent manner, are a highly influential framework in which pattern formation processes in developmental biology can be characterized. A common analysis approach is combining experimental and theoretical strategies, thereby fostering relevant data on the dynamics and transduction of gradients. The mechanisms of morphogen transport and conversion from graded information to binary responses are some of the topics on which these combined strategies have shed light. Herein, we review these data, emphasizing, on the one hand, how theoretical approaches have been helpful and, on the other hand, how these have been combined with experimental strategies. In addition, we discuss those cases in which gradient formation and gradient interpretation at the molecular and/or cellular level may influence each other within a mutual feedback loop. To understand this interplay and the features it yields, it becomes essential to take system-level approaches that combine experimental and theoretical strategies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Transport
  • Cell Differentiation / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / metabolism*
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / pharmacology
  • Morphogenesis* / drug effects
  • Systems Biology


  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins