Spatio-temporal reference model of Caenorhabditis elegans embryogenesis with cell contact maps

Dev Biol. 2009 Sep 1;333(1):1-13. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2009.06.014. Epub 2009 Jun 13.


The nematode Caenorhabditis elegans has been used as a model for developmental biology for decades. Still, the few publicly available spatio-temporal (4D) data sets have conflicting information regarding variability of cell positions and are not well-suited for a standard 4D embryonic model, due to compression. We have recorded six uncompressed embryos, and determined their lineage and 4D coordinates, including nuclear radii, until the end of gastrulation. We find a remarkable degree of stability in the cell positions, as well as little rotational movement, which allowed us to combine the data into a single reference model of C. elegans embryogenesis. Using Voronoi decomposition we generated the list of all predicted cell contacts during early embryogenesis and calculated these contacts up to the approximately 150 cell stage, and find that about 1500 contacts last 2.5 min or longer. The cell contact map allows for comparison of multiple 4D data sets, e.g., mutants or related species, at the cellular level. A comparison of our uncompressed 4D model with a compressed embryo shows that up to 40% of the cell contacts can be different. To visualize the 4D model interactively we developed a software utility. Our model provides an anatomical resource and can serve as foundation to display 4D expression data, a basis for developmental systems biology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / embryology*
  • Cell Communication
  • Cell Lineage
  • Cell Movement
  • Embryo, Nonmammalian / physiology
  • Models, Animal*
  • Models, Biological*