Rapid diffusion-state switching underlies stable cytoplasmic gradients in the Caenorhabditis elegans zygote

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Youjun WuErik E Griffin


Protein concentration gradients organize cells and tissues and commonly form through diffusion away from a local source of protein. Interestingly, during the asymmetric division of the Caenorhabditis elegans zygote, the RNA-binding proteins MEX-5 and PIE-1 form opposing concentration gradients in the absence of a local source. In this study, we use near-total internal reflection fluorescence (TIRF) imaging and single-particle tracking to characterize the reaction/diffusion dynamics that maintain the MEX-5 and PIE-1 gradients. Our findings suggest that both proteins interconvert between fast-diffusing and slow-diffusing states on timescales that are much shorter (seconds) than the timescale of gradient formation (minutes). The kinetics of diffusion-state switching are strongly polarized along the anterior/posterior (A/P) axis by the PAR polarity system such that fast-diffusing MEX-5 and PIE-1 particles are approximately symmetrically distributed, whereas slow-diffusing particles are highly enriched in the anterior and posterior cytoplasm, respectively. Using mathematical modeling, we show that local differences in the kinetics of diffusion-state switching can rapidly generate stable concentration gradients over a broad range of ...Continue Reading


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