Chemical Messengers in Development: A Hypothesis

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Science  20 Sep 1974:
Vol. 185, Issue 4156, pp. 1012-1021
DOI: 10.1126/science.185.4156.1012


The hypothesis that physiological and developmental regulatory mechanisms are similar has been presented. Well-known developmental systems chosen illustrate the capability of the model to suggest a simple mechanism underlying the effects on development of a diverse group of chemicals. This hypothesis might be applied to other systems including the induction of the lens, limb regeneration, and the induction of the head of hydra (124).

I have proposed this hypothesis not only because it permits consideration of a complex and varied array of experimental observations as reflections of a simple basic biochemical mechanism, but because recent technical advances in instrumentation and methods allow it to be directly tested. The fluorescent antibody method for the cytochemical measurement of cyclic nucleotides provides a means for investigating changes in the concentrations of cyclic nucleotides in developing cells and could also be used to detect neurotransmitters in developing cells. Similarly, the scanning electron microscope in the emitted x-ray mode provides a method for measuring changes in the content and distribution of cations within developing cells.

The hypothesis presented here suggests pleasing asceticism on the part of eukaryotes. It suggests that simple derivatives of metabolites, including neurotransmitters and cyclic nucleotides, are linked together as regulatory molecules throughout the eukaryotes. The neurotransmitters are suggested to have a more general role in information transmission in eukaryotes than is generally accepted. They are hypothesized to have progressed during evolution from being intracellular messengers to a role as intercellular messengers for the relatively slow communication of developmental informatbn; and, finally, this process has culminated with their participation in the rapid intercellular communication mediated by nerves. The thought that the complex pictures of physiological regulation and of the construction of a complex multicellular organism like man might be painted with so few colors is quite satisfying.