Self-organization of periodic patterns by dissociated feather mesenchymal cells and the regulation of size, number and spacing of primordia

Ting Xin Jiang, Han Sung Jung, Randall B. Widelitz, Cheng Ming Chuong

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156 Citations (Scopus)


Periodic patterning is a fundamental organizing process in biology. Using a feather reconstitution assay, we traced back to the initial stage of the patterning process. Cells started from an equivalent state and self-organized into a periodic pattern without previous cues or sequential propagation. When different numbers of dissociated mesenchymal cells were confronted with a piece of same-sized epithelium, the size of feather primordia remained constant, not the number or interbud spacing, suggesting size determination is intrinsic to dissociated cells. Increasing bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) receptor expression in mesenchymal cells decreased the size of primordia while antagonizing the BMP pathway with Noggin increased the size of primordia. A threshold number of mesenchymal cells with a basal level of adhesion molecules such as NCAM were sufficient to trigger the patterning process. The process is best visualized by the progressive restriction of β-catenin transcripts in the epidermis. Therefore, feather size, number and spacing are modulated through the available morphogen ligands and receptors in the system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4997-5009
Number of pages13
Issue number22
Publication statusPublished - 1999 Dec 1


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Molecular Biology
  • Developmental Biology

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