A pinboard by
Vaibhav Pai

Post-doctoral scholar, Tufts University


Bioelectrical signals in morphogenetic patterning

Biophysical forces play important roles in pattern formation during embryogenesis and regeneration. Birth defects arise from errors in the complex process of embryonic development, and can be caused by a range of teratogenic compounds and genetic mutations. Endogenous bioelectrical signaling among cells is an important mechanism for coordinating cell behaviors toward correcting anatomical outcomes. Previously we showed that endogenous bioelectric prepatterns are crucial eye and brain patterning signals. Here, targeting ion channels in the Xenopus laevis embryo model, we reveal new aspects of bioelectricity as a tractable control point for reversing or preventing developmental malformations. We present a realistic computational model that explains the developmental defects and their repair by ion channel activity, and confirm the model’s predictions by bioelectric voltage mapping under a range of conditions in vivo. Together, these results suggest a novel roadmap to the amelioration of an important class of birth defects.


Neurally Derived Tissues in Xenopus laevis Embryos Exhibit a Consistent Bioelectrical Left-Right Asymmetry.

Abstract: Consistent left-right asymmetry in organ morphogenesis is a fascinating aspect of bilaterian development. Although embryonic patterning of asymmetric viscera, heart, and brain is beginning to be understood, less is known about possible subtle asymmetries present in anatomically identical paired structures. We investigated two important developmental events: physiological controls of eye development and specification of neural crest derivatives, in Xenopus laevis embryos. We found that the striking hyperpolarization of transmembrane potential (V(mem)) demarcating eye induction usually occurs in the right eye field first. This asymmetry is randomized by perturbing visceral left-right patterning, suggesting that eye asymmetry is linked to mechanisms establishing primary laterality. Bilateral misexpression of a depolarizing channel mRNA affects primarily the right eye, revealing an additional functional asymmetry in the control of eye patterning by V(mem). The ATP-sensitive K(+) channel subunit transcript, SUR1, is asymmetrically expressed in the eye primordia, thus being a good candidate for the observed physiological asymmetries. Such subtle asymmetries are not only seen in the eye: consistent asymmetry was also observed in the migration of differentiated melanocytes on the left and right sides. These data suggest that even anatomically symmetrical structures may possess subtle but consistent laterality and interact with other developmental left-right patterning pathways.

Pub.: 25 Jan '13, Pinned: 08 Jun '17

Endogenous gradients of resting potential instructively pattern embryonic neural tissue via Notch signaling and regulation of proliferation.

Abstract: Biophysical forces play important roles throughout embryogenesis, but the roles of spatial differences in cellular resting potentials during large-scale brain morphogenesis remain unknown. Here, we implicate endogenous bioelectricity as an instructive factor during brain patterning in Xenopus laevis. Early frog embryos exhibit a characteristic hyperpolarization of cells lining the neural tube; disruption of this spatial gradient of the transmembrane potential (Vmem) diminishes or eliminates the expression of early brain markers, and causes anatomical mispatterning of the brain, including absent or malformed regions. This effect is mediated by voltage-gated calcium signaling and gap-junctional communication. In addition to cell-autonomous effects, we show that hyperpolarization of transmembrane potential (Vmem) in ventral cells outside the brain induces upregulation of neural cell proliferation at long range. Misexpression of the constitutively active form of Notch, a suppressor of neural induction, impairs the normal hyperpolarization pattern and neural patterning; forced hyperpolarization by misexpression of specific ion channels rescues brain defects induced by activated Notch signaling. Strikingly, hyperpolarizing posterior or ventral cells induces the production of ectopic neural tissue considerably outside the neural field. The hyperpolarization signal also synergizes with canonical reprogramming factors (POU and HB4), directing undifferentiated cells toward neural fate in vivo. These data identify a new functional role for bioelectric signaling in brain patterning, reveal interactions between Vmem and key biochemical pathways (Notch and Ca(2+) signaling) as the molecular mechanism by which spatial differences of Vmem regulate organogenesis of the vertebrate brain, and suggest voltage modulation as a tractable strategy for intervention in certain classes of birth defects.

Pub.: 13 Mar '15, Pinned: 08 Jun '17

Local and long-range endogenous resting potential gradients antagonistically regulate apoptosis and proliferation in the embryonic CNS.

Abstract: Bioelectric signals, particularly transmembrane voltage potentials (Vmem), play an important role in large-scale patterning during embryonic development. Endogenous bioelectric gradients across tissues function as instructive factors during eye, brain, and other morphogenetic processes. An important and still poorly-understood aspect is the control of cell behaviors by the voltage states of distant cell groups. Here, experimental alteration of endogenous Vmem was induced in Xenopus laevis embryos by misexpression of well-characterized ion channel mRNAs, a strategy often used to identify functional roles of Vmem gradients during embryonic development and regeneration. Immunofluorescence analysis (for activated caspase 3 and phosphor-histone H3P) on embryonic sections was used to characterize apoptosis and proliferation. Disrupting local bioelectric signals (within the developing neural tube region) increased caspase 3 and decreased H3P in the brain, resulting in brain mispatterning. Disrupting remote (ventral, non-neural region) bioelectric signals decreased caspase 3 and highly increased H3P within the brain, with normal brain patterning. Disrupting both the local and distant bioelectric signals produced antagonistic effects on caspase 3 and H3P. Thus, two components of bioelectric signals regulate apoptosis-proliferation balance within the developing brain and spinal cord: local (developing neural tube region) and distant (ventral non-neural region). Together, the local and long-range bioelectric signals create a binary control system capable of fine-tuning apoptosis and proliferation with the brain and spinal cord to achieve correct pattern and size control. Our data suggest a roadmap for utilizing bioelectric state as a diagnostic modality and convenient intervention parameter for birth defects and degenerative disease states of the CNS.

Pub.: 23 Jul '15, Pinned: 08 Jun '17