Dynamic intercellular transport modulates the spatial patterning of differentiation during early neural commitment

Nat Commun. 2018 Oct 5;9(1):4111. doi: 10.1038/s41467-018-06693-1.


The initiation of heterogeneity within a population of phenotypically identical progenitors is a critical event for the onset of morphogenesis and differentiation patterning. Gap junction communication within multicellular systems produces complex networks of intercellular connectivity that result in heterogeneous distributions of intracellular signaling molecules. In this study, we investigate emergent systems-level behavior of the intercellular network within embryonic stem cell (ESC) populations and corresponding spatial organization during early neural differentiation. An agent-based model incorporates experimentally-determined parameters to yield complex transport networks for delivery of pro-differentiation cues between neighboring cells, reproducing the morphogenic trajectories during retinoic acid-accelerated mouse ESC differentiation. Furthermore, the model correctly predicts the delayed differentiation and preserved spatial features of the morphogenic trajectory that occurs in response to intercellular perturbation. These findings suggest an integral role of gap junction communication in the temporal coordination of emergent patterning during early differentiation and neural commitment of pluripotent stem cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Communication*
  • Cell Cycle*
  • Cell Line
  • Connexin 43 / metabolism
  • Embryonic Stem Cells / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Models, Biological*
  • Neurogenesis*
  • Tretinoin


  • Connexin 43
  • GJA1 protein, mouse
  • Tretinoin