The dynamics of morphogenesis in stem cell-based embryology: Novel insights for symmetry breaking

Dev Biol. 2021 Jun;474:82-90. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2020.12.005. Epub 2020 Dec 15.


Breaking embryonic symmetry is an essential prerequisite to shape the initially symmetric embryo into a highly organized body plan that serves as the blueprint of the adult organism. This critical process is driven by morphogen signaling gradients that instruct anteroposterior axis specification. Despite its fundamental importance, what triggers symmetry breaking and how the signaling gradients are established in time and space in the mammalian embryo remain largely unknown. Stem cell-based in vitro models of embryogenesis offer an unprecedented opportunity to quantitatively dissect the multiple physical and molecular processes that shape the mammalian embryo. Here we review biochemical mechanisms governing early mammalian patterning in vivo and highlight recent advances to recreate this in vitro using stem cells. We discuss how the novel insights from these model systems extend previously proposed concepts to illuminate the extent to which embryonic cells have the intrinsic capability to generate specific, reproducible patterns during embryogenesis.

Keywords: Embryogenesis; Gastrulation; In vitro; Signaling; Stem cells; Symmetry breaking.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Patterning
  • Embryo, Mammalian / cytology
  • Embryo, Mammalian / metabolism
  • Embryonic Development*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Morphogenesis*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Stem Cells / cytology