Periodic segmentation of the presomitic mesoderm of a developing mouse embryo is controlled by a network of signaling pathways. Signaling oscillations and gradients are thought to control the timing and spacing of segment formation, respectively. While the involved signaling pathways have been studied extensively over the last decades, direct evidence for the function of signaling oscillations in controlling somitogenesis has been lacking. To enable the functional investigation of signaling dynamics, microfluidics is a previously established tool for the subtle modulation of these dynamics. With this microfluidics-based entrainment approach endogenous signaling oscillations are synchronized by pulses of pathway modulators. This enables modulation of, for instance, the oscillation period or the phase-relationship between two oscillating pathways. Furthermore, spatial gradients of pathway modulators can be established along the tissue to study how specific changes in the signaling gradients affect somitogenesis. The present protocol is meant to help establish microfluidic approaches for the first-time users of microfluidics. The basic principles and equipment needed to set up a microfluidic system are described, and a chip design is provided, with which a mold for chip generation can conveniently be prepared using a 3D printer. Finally, how to culture primary mouse tissue on a microfluidic chip and how to entrain signaling oscillations to external pulses of pathway modulators are discussed. This microfluidic system can also be adapted to harbor other in vivo and in vitro model systems such as gastruloids and organoids for functional investigation of signaling dynamics and morphogen gradients in other contexts.
- Biological Clocks/physiology