enough, there was a directional bias in the movement, meaning simply that cells in the PSM tended tomove toward the tail. It looks like a simple case of directed migration of cells toward a target.Interesting, maybe, but not such big news. But then, a noise from the next room. Exeunt.
Act III: Random cell movements in the elongating embryo
So cells seem to move toward the tail. This could mean they're being directed toward the tail by somekind of homing mechanism, and this would be a reasonable expectation. But because the embryo iselongating, it could be that the directed movement of individual cells is an illusion: the cells aremoving toward the tail because the space they inhabit is moving toward the tail. The authorsaddressed this by canceling out the effect of elongation of the cells' environment, and focusing solely on the movement of cells within that environment. The environment in this case is the extracellularmatrix, or ECM, as indicated by one of its components, fibronectin. I'm sorry about the jargon, but Iincluded it so I could quote the authors in full as they describe the results of the experiment:Surprisingly, the movements of cells relative to the ECM did not show any local directional bias. The mean square displacement of these cells compared to the fibronectin movementscales with time, indicating that cells exhibit a 'random walk'-like diffusive behaviour, withthe diffusion of cells relative to the fibronectin following a posterior-to-anterior [back-to-front] gradient.In other words, the cells are moving randomly, behaving like molecules diffusingin a liquid. The
authors verified this by looking at cell protrusions, the telltale signs of a cell's migrational direction.The protrusions all pointed in random directions. Amazingly, this seemingly ordered march of cellstoward the back, resulting in the growth of the tail end of the embryo, is the product of random cellmovement. And yet it yields an ordered result. How?
Act IV: A gradient of random cell movement controlled by a conserved developmentalsignaling system
Recall that cell movement in the PSM is not uniform: cells near the tail move (randomly) more. Theauthors knew that an ancient and well-known signaling system functions in a similarly graded fashionin that tissue. Known as theFGF