Control of signaling molecule range during developmental patterning
Morphogens are signaling molecules that regulate growth and patterning during development by forming a gradient and activating different target genes at different concentrations. The extracellular distribution of morphogens is tightly regulated, with the Drosophila morphogen Wingless (Wg) relying on Dally-like (Dlp) and transcytosis for its distribution. However, in the absence of Dlp or endocytic activity, Wg can still move across cells along the apical (Ap) surface. We identified a novel secreted heparan sulfate proteoglycan (HSPG) that binds to Wg and promotes its extracellular distribution by increasing Wg mobility, which was thus named Carrier of Wg (Cow). Cow promotes the Ap transport of Wg, independent of Dlp and endocytosis, and this function addresses a previous gap in the understanding of Wg movement. This is the first example of a diffusible HSPG acting as a carrier to promote the extracellular movement of a morphogen.