Variability of an early developmental cell population underlies stochastic laterality defects


  • R. Moreno-Ayala
  • P. Olivares-Chauvet
  • R. Schäfer
  • J.P. Junker


  • Cell Reports


  • Cell Rep 34 (2): 108606


  • Embryonic development seemingly proceeds with almost perfect precision. However, it is largely unknown how much underlying microscopic variability is compatible with normal development. Here, we quantify embryo-to-embryo variability in vertebrate development by studying cell number variation in the zebrafish endoderm. We notice that the size of a sub-population of the endoderm, the dorsal forerunner cells (DFCs, which later form the left-right organizer), exhibits significantly more embryo-to-embryo variation than the rest of the endoderm. We find that, with incubation of the embryos at elevated temperature, the frequency of left-right laterality defects is increased drastically in embryos with a low number of DFCs. Furthermore, we observe that these fluctuations have a large stochastic component among fish of the same genetic background. Hence, a stochastic variation in early development leads to a remarkably strong macroscopic phenotype. These fluctuations appear to be associated with maternal effects in the specification of the DFCs.