Systems Properties and Spatiotemporal Regulation of Cell Position Variability during Embryogenesis

Xiaoyu Li, Zhiguang Zhao, Weina Xu, Rong Fan, Long Xiao, Xuehua Ma, Zhuo Du

Cell Reports


An intriguing question in developmental biology is how do developmental processes achieve high reproducibility among individuals? An in-depth analysis of information contained in phenotypic variability provides an important perspective to address this question. In this work, we present a quantitative and functional analysis of cell position variability during Caenorhabditis elegans embryogenesis. We find that cell position variability is highly deterministic and regulated by intrinsic and extrinsic mechanisms. Positional variability is determined by cell lineage identity and is coupled to diverse developmental properties of cells, including embryonic localization, cell contact, and left-right symmetry. Temporal dynamics of cell position variability are highly concordant, and fate specification contributes to a systems-wide reduction of variability that could provide a buffering strategy. Positional variability is stringently regulated throughout embryogenesis and cell-cell junctions function to restrict variability. Our results provide insight into systems properties and spatiotemporal control of cellular variability during development.