Branching morphogenesis is a fundamental developmental mechanism that shapes the formation of many organs. The complex three-dimensional shapes derived by this process reflect equally complex genetic interactions between branching epithelia and their surrounding mesenchyme. Despite the importance of this process to normal adult organ function, analysis of branching has been stymied by the absence of a bespoke method to quantify accurately the complex spatial datasets that describe it. As a consequence, although many developmentally important genes are proposed to influence branching morphogenesis, we have no way of objectively assessing their individual contributions to this process. We report the development of a method for accurately quantifying many aspects of branching morphogenesis and we demonstrate its application to the study of organ development. As proof of principle we have employed this approach to analyse the developing mouse lung and kidney, describing the spatial characteristics of the branching ureteric bud and pulmonary epithelia. To demonstrate further its capacity to profile unrecognised genetic contributions to organ development, we examine Tgfb2 mutant kidneys, identifying elements of both developmental delay and specific spatial dysmorphology caused by haplo-insufficiency for this gene. This technical advance provides a crucial resource that will enable rigorous characterisation of the genetic and environmental factors that regulate this essential and evolutionarily conserved developmental mechanism.
Short, K. M., Hodson, M. J., & Smyth, I. M. (2013). Spatial mapping and quantification of developmental branching morphogenesis. Development (Cambridge), 140(2), 471 - 478. https://doi.org/10.1242/dev.088500