Abstract

Studies of Caenorhabditis elegans vulval development provide a paradigm for pattern formation during animal development. The fates of the six vulval precursor cells are specified by the combined action of an inductive signal that activates the EGF receptor mitogen-activated PK signaling pathway (specifying a primary fate) and a lateral signal mediated by LIN-12/Notch (specifying a secondary fate). Here we use methods devised for the engineering of complex reactive systems to model a biological system. We have chosen the visual formalism of statecharts and use it to formalize Sternberg and Horvitz’s 1989 model [Sternberg, P. W. & Horvitz, H. R. (1989) Cell 58, 679–693], which forms the basis for our current understanding of the interaction between these two signaling pathways. The construction and execution of our model suggest that different levels of the inductive signal induce a temporally graded response of the EGF receptor mitogen-activated PK pathway and make explicit the importance of this temporal response. Our model also suggests the existence of an additional mechanism operating during lateral specification that prohibits neighboring vulval precursor cells from assuming the primary fate.