Is pigment patterning in fish skin determined by the Turing mechanism?

Trends Genet. 2015 Feb;31(2):88-96. doi: 10.1016/j.tig.2014.11.005. Epub 2014 Dec 24.


More than half a century ago, Alan Turing postulated that pigment patterns may arise from a mechanism that could be mathematically modeled based on the diffusion of two substances that interact with each other. Over the past 15 years, the molecular and genetic tools to verify this prediction have become available. Here, we review experimental studies aimed at identifying the mechanism underlying pigment pattern formation in zebrafish. Extensive molecular genetic studies in this model organism have revealed the interactions between the pigment cells that are responsible for the patterns. The mechanism discovered is substantially different from that predicted by the mathematical model, but it retains the property of 'local activation and long-range inhibition', a necessary condition for Turing pattern formation. Although some of the molecular details of pattern formation remain to be elucidated, current evidence confirms that the underlying mechanism is mathematically equivalent to the Turing mechanism.

Keywords: Turing mechanism; pigmentation pattern; reaction-diffusion; zebrafish.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Patterning*
  • Cell Communication
  • Fishes / physiology*
  • Models, Biological
  • Skin Pigmentation*
  • Zebrafish / physiology