Anand GM, Megale HC, Murphy SH, Weis T, Lin Z, He Y, Wang X, Liu J, Ramanathan S. 2023. Controlling organoid symmetry breaking uncovers an excitable system underlying human axial elongation. Cell. 186(3):497-512.e23. Pubmed: 36657443 DOI:S0092-8674(22)01586-0


The human embryo breaks symmetry to form the anterior-posterior axis of the body. As the embryo elongates along this axis, progenitors in the tail bud give rise to tissues that generate spinal cord, skeleton, and musculature. This raises the question of how the embryo achieves axial elongation and patterning. While ethics necessitate in vitro studies, the variability of organoid systems has hindered mechanistic insights. Here, we developed a bioengineering and machine learning framework that optimizes organoid symmetry breaking by tuning their spatial coupling. This framework enabled reproducible generation of axially elongating organoids, each possessing a tail bud and neural tube. We discovered that an excitable system composed of WNT/FGF signaling drives elongation by inducing a neuromesodermal progenitor-like signaling center. We discovered that instabilities in the excitable system are suppressed by secreted WNT inhibitors. Absence of these inhibitors led to ectopic tail buds and branches. Our results identify mechanisms governing stable human axial elongation.
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Sharad Ramanathan investigates how multi-potent stem cells make fate decisions to give rise to complex human tissues, and how the dynamics of key neurons in the nervous system drive behavioral decisions.

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