The Journal of experimental biology

Reversible developmental stasis in response to nutrient availability in the Xenopus laevis central nervous system.

PMID 27875263


Many organisms confront intermittent nutrient restriction (NR), but the mechanisms to cope with nutrient fluctuations during development are not well understood. This is particularly true of the brain, the development and function of which is energy intensive. Here we examine the effects of nutrient availability on visual system development in Xenopus laevis tadpoles. During the first week of development, tadpoles draw nutrients from maternally provided yolk. Upon yolk depletion, animals forage for food. By altering access to external nutrients after yolk depletion, we identified a period of reversible stasis during tadpole development. We demonstrate that NR results in developmental stasis characterized by a decrease in overall growth of the animals, a failure to progress through developmental stages, and a decrease in volume of the optic tectum. During NR, neural progenitors virtually cease proliferation, but tadpoles swim and behave normally. Introducing food after temporary NR increased neural progenitor cell proliferation more than 10-fold relative to NR tadpoles, and cell proliferation was comparable to that of fed counterparts 1 week after delayed feeding. Delayed feeding also rescued NR-induced body length and tectal volume deficits and partially rescued developmental progression defects. Tadpoles recover from developmental stasis if food is provided within the first 9 days of NR, after which access to food fails to increase cell proliferation. These results show that early stages of tadpole brain development are acutely sensitive to fluctuations in nutrient availability and that NR induces developmental stasis from which animals can recover if food becomes available within a critical window.