Tissue patterning during animal development is orchestrated by a handful of inductive signals. Most of these developmental cues act as morphogens, meaning they are locally produced secreted molecules that act at a distance to govern tissue patterning. The iterative use of the same signaling molecules in different developmental contexts demands that signal interpretation occurs in a highly context-dependent manner. Hence the interpretation of signal depends on the specific competence of the receiving cells. Moreover, it has become clear that the differential interpretation of morphogens depends not only on the level of signaling but also the signaling dynamics, particularly the duration of signaling. In this review, we outline molecular mechanisms proposed in recent studies that explain how the response to morphogens is determined by differential competence, pathway intrinsic feedback, and the interpretation of signaling dynamics by gene regulatory networks. WIREs Dev Biol 2017, 6:e271. doi: 10.1002/wdev.271 For further resources related to this article, please visit the WIREs website.
© 2017 The Authors. WIREs Developmental Biology published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc.