Morphogen gradients regulate the patterning and growth of many tissues, hence a key question is how they are established and maintained during development. Theoretical descriptions have helped to explain how gradient shape is controlled by the rates of morphogen production, spreading and degradation. These effective rates have been measured using fluorescence recovery after photobleaching (FRAP) and photoactivation. To unravel which molecular events determine the effective rates, such tissue-level assays have been combined with genetic analysis, high-resolution assays, and models that take into account interactions with receptors, extracellular components and trafficking. Nevertheless, because of the natural and experimental data variability, and the underlying assumptions of transport models, it remains challenging to conclusively distinguish between cellular mechanisms.
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