Topology and Dynamics of the Zebrafish Segmentation Clock Core Circuit

<div><p>During vertebrate embryogenesis, the rhythmic and sequential segmentation of the body axis is regulated by an oscillating genetic network termed the segmentation clock. We describe a new dynamic model for the core pace-making circuit of the zebrafish segmentation clock based on a systematic biochemical investigation of the network's topology and precise measurements of somitogenesis dynamics in novel genetic mutants. We show that the core pace-making circuit consists of two distinct negative feedback loops, one with Her1 homodimers and the other with Her7:Hes6 heterodimers, operating in parallel. To explain the observed single and double mutant phenotypes of <em>her1</em>, <em>her7</em>, and <em>hes6</em> mutant embryos in our dynamic model, we postulate that the availability and effective stability of the dimers with DNA binding activity is controlled in a “dimer cloud” that contains all possible dimeric combinations between the three factors. This feature of our model predicts that Hes6 protein levels should oscillate despite constant <em>hes6</em> mRNA production, which we confirm experimentally using novel Hes6 antibodies. The control of the circuit's dynamics by a population of dimers with and without DNA binding activity is a new principle for the segmentation clock and may be relevant to other biological clocks and transcriptional regulatory networks.</p> </div>