her6 is a zebrafish ortholog of Hes1, known for its role in maintaining neural progenitors during neural development. Here, we characterise the population-level effect of altering Her6 protein expression dynamics at the single-cell level in the embryonic zebrafish telencephalon. Using an endogenous Her6:Venus reporter and 4D single-cell tracking, we show that Her6 oscillates in neural telencephalic progenitors and that fusion of a protein destabilisation domain (PEST) to Her6:Venus alters its expression dynamics causing most cells to downregulate Her6 prematurely. However, in PEST mutants, a higher proportion of cells exhibit Her6 oscillations and while expression is reduced in most cells, some cells express Her6 at wild-type levels resulting in increased heterogeneity of Her6 expression in the population. Despite the profound differences in the single-cell Her6 dynamics, differentiation markers do not exhibit major differences early on, while an increase in differentiation is observed at later developmental stages (vglut2a, gad1 and gad2). At the same time, at late stage the overall size of the telencephalon remains the same. Computational modelling that simulates changes in Her6 protein stability reveals that the increase in population Her6 expression heterogeneity is an emergent property of finely tuned Notch signalling coupling between single cells. Our study suggests that such cell coupling provides a compensation strategy whereby a normal phenotype is maintained while single-cell dynamics are abnormal, although the limit of this compensation is reached at late developmental stages. We conclude that in the neural progenitor population, cell coupling controls Her6 expression heterogeneity and in doing so, it provides phenotypic robustness when individual cells lose Her6 expression prematurely.
|Publication status||Submitted - 2 Dec 2022|