Robustness and Accuracy in Sea Urchin Developmental Gene Regulatory Networks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Developmental gene regulatory networks robustly control the timely activation of regulatory and differentiation genes. The structure of these networks underlies their capacity to buffer intrinsic and extrinsic noise and maintain embryonic morphology. Here I illustrate how the use of specific architectures by the sea urchin developmental regulatory networks enables the robust control of cell fate decisions. The Wnt-βcatenin signaling pathway patterns the primary embryonic axis while the BMP signaling pathway patterns the secondary embryonic axis in the sea urchin embryo and across bilateria. Interestingly, in the sea urchin in both cases, the signaling pathway that defines the axis controls directly the expression of a set of downstream regulatory genes. I propose that this direct activation of a set of regulatory genes enables a uniform regulatory response and a clear cut cell fate decision in the endoderm and in the dorsal ectoderm. The specification of the mesodermal pigment cell lineage is activated by Delta signaling that initiates a triple positive feedback loop that locks down the pigment specification state. I propose that the use of compound positive feedback circuitry provides the endodermal cells enough time to turn off mesodermal genes and ensures correct mesoderm vs. endoderm fate decision. Thus, I argue that understanding the control properties of repeatedly used regulatory architectures illuminates their role in embryogenesis and provides possible explanations to their resistance to evolutionary change.
Original languageEnglish
Article number16
Pages (from-to)16
Number of pages1
JournalFrontiers in Genetics
Issue numberFEB
StatePublished - 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Ben-Tabou de-Leon.


  • BMP signaling
  • Compound network motifs
  • Delta-Notch signaling
  • Development and evolution
  • Developmental gene regulatory network
  • Sea urchins
  • Wnt signaling pathway

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics(clinical)
  • Genetics
  • Molecular Medicine


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