XPrecise developmental gene expression arises from globally stochastic transcriptional activity

Shawn C. Little, Mikhail Tikhonov, Thomas Gregor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

198 Scopus citations


Early embryonic patterning events are strikingly precise, a fact that appears incompatible with the stochastic gene expression observed across phyla. Using single-molecule mRNA quantification in Drosophila embryos, we determine the magnitude of fluctuations in the expression of four critical patterning genes. The accumulation of mRNAs is identical across genes and fluctuates by only ∼8% between neighboring nuclei, generating precise protein distributions. In contrast, transcribing loci exhibit an intrinsic noise of ∼45% independent of specific promoter-enhancer architecture or fluctuating inputs. Precise transcript distribution in the syncytium is recovered via straightforward spatiotemporal averaging, i.e., accumulation and diffusion of transcripts during nuclear cycles, without regulatory feedback. Common expression characteristics shared between genes suggest that fluctuations in mRNA production are context independent and are a fundamental property of transcription. The findings shed light on how the apparent paradox between stochastic transcription and developmental precision is resolved.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)X789-800
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 15 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


Dive into the research topics of 'XPrecise developmental gene expression arises from globally stochastic transcriptional activity'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this