A Theoretical Model of Neural Maturation in the Developing Chick Spinal Cord.
Cellular differentiation is a tightly regulated process under the control of intricate signaling and transcription factors interaction network working in coordination. These interactions make the systems dynamic, robust and stable but also difficult to dissect. In the spinal cord, recent work has shown that a network of FGF, WNT and Retinoic Acid (RA) signaling factors regulate neural maturation by directing the activity of a transcription factor network that contains CDX at its core. Here we have used partial and ordinary (Hill) differential equation based models to understand the spatiotemporal dynamics of the FGF/WNT/RA and the CDX/transcription factor networks, alone and in combination. We show that in both networks, the strength of interaction among network partners impacts the dynamics, behavior and output of the system. In the signaling network, interaction strength determine the position and size of discrete regions of cell differentiation and small changes in the strength of the interactions among networking partners can result in a signal overriding, balancing or oscillating with another signal. We also show that the spatiotemporal information generated by the signaling network can be conveyed to the CDX/transcription network to produces a transition zone that separates regions of high cell potency from regions of cell differentiation, in agreement with most in vivo observations. Importantly, one emerging property of the networks is their robustness to extrinsic disturbances, which allows the system to retain or canalize NP cells in developmental trajectories. This analysis provides a model for the interaction conditions underlying spinal cord cell maturation during embryonic axial elongation.