Mathematics, Department of


Date of this Version



PLoS Comput Biol 13(1): e1005320.


© 2017 Holmes et al.

Open access



A critical event in mammalian embryo development is construction of an inner cell mass surrounded by a trophoectoderm (a shell of cells that later form extraembryonic structures). We utilize multi-scale, stochastic modeling to investigate the design principles responsible for robust establishment of these structures. This investigation makes three predictions, each supported by our quantitative imaging. First, stochasticity in the expression of critical genes promotes cell plasticity and has a critical role in accurately organizing the developing mouse blastocyst. Second, asymmetry in the levels of noise variation (expression fluctuation) of Cdx2 and Oct4 provides a means to gain the benefits of noise-mediated plasticity while ameliorating the potentially detrimental effects of stochasticity. Finally, by controlling the timing and pace of cell fate specification, the embryo temporally modulates plasticity and creates a time window during which each cell can continually read its environment and adjusts its fate. These results suggest noise has a crucial role in maintaining cellular plasticity and organizing the blastocyst.