Predicting how interactions between transcription factors and regulatory DNA sequence dictate rates of trancription and, ultimately, drive developmental outcomes remains an open challenge in physical biology. Using stripe 2 of the even-skipped gene in Drosophila embryos as a case study, we dissect the regulatory forces underpinning a key step along the developmental decision-making cascade: the generation of cytoplasmic mRNA patterns via the control of transcription in individual cells. Using live imaging and computational approaches, we found that the transcriptional burst frequency is modulated across the stripe to control the mRNA production rate. However, we discovered that bursting alone cannot quantitatively recapitulate the formation of the stripe, and that control of the window of time over which each nucleus transcribes even-skipped plays a critical role in stripe formation. Theoretical modeling revealed that these regulatory strategies (bursting and the time window) respond in different ways to input transcription factor concentrations, suggesting that the stripe is shaped by the interplay of two distinct underlying molecular processes.
Multimodal transcriptional control of pattern formation in embryonic development