Tissue cohesion and the mechanics of cell rearrangement

David R, Luu O, Damm EW, Wen JW, Nagel M, Winklbauer R

Development 2014 Oct;141(19):3672-82

PMID: 25249459


Morphogenetic processes often involve the rapid rearrangement of cells held together by mutual adhesion. The dynamic nature of this adhesion endows tissues with liquid-like properties, such that large-scale shape changes appear as tissue flows. Generally, the resistance to flow (tissue viscosity) is expected to depend on the cohesion of a tissue (how strongly its cells adhere to each other), but the exact relationship between these parameters is not known. Here, we analyse the link between cohesion and viscosity to uncover basic mechanical principles of cell rearrangement. We show that for vertebrate and invertebrate tissues, viscosity varies in proportion to cohesion over a 200-fold range of values. We demonstrate that this proportionality is predicted by a cell-based model of tissue viscosity. To do so, we analyse cell adhesion in Xenopus embryonic tissues and determine a number of parameters, including tissue surface tension (as a measure of cohesion), cell contact fluctuation and cortical tension. In the tissues studied, the ratio of surface tension to viscosity, which has the dimension of a velocity, is 1.8 µm/min. This characteristic velocity reflects the rate of cell-cell boundary contraction during rearrangement, and sets a limit to rearrangement rates. Moreover, we propose that, in these tissues, cell movement is maximally efficient. Our approach to cell rearrangement mechanics links adhesion to the resistance of a tissue to plastic deformation, identifies the characteristic velocity of the process, and provides a basis for the comparison of tissues with mechanical properties that may vary by orders of magnitude.

Ephrin-Eph signaling in embryonic tissue separation

Fagotto F, Winklbauer R, Rohani N

Cell Adh Migr 2014;8(4):308-26

PMID: 25482630


The physical separation of the embryonic regions that give rise to the tissues and organs of multicellular organisms is a fundamental aspect of morphogenesis. Pioneer experiments by Holtfreter had shown that embryonic cells can sort based on “tissue affinities,” which have long been considered to rely on differences in cell-cell adhesion. However, vertebrate embryonic tissues also express a variety of cell surface cues, in particular ephrins and Eph receptors, and there is now firm evidence that these molecules are systematically used to induce local repulsion at contacts between different cell types, efficiently preventing mixing of adjacent cell populations.

EphA4-dependent Brachyury expression is required for dorsal mesoderm involution in the Xenopus gastrula

Evren S, Wen JW, Luu O, Damm EW, Nagel M, Winklbauer R

Development 2014 Oct;141(19):3649-61

PMID: 25209247


Xenopus provides a well-studied model of vertebrate gastrulation, but a central feature, the movement of the mesoderm to the interior of the embryo, has received little attention. Here, we analyze mesoderm involution at the Xenopus dorsal blastopore lip. We show that a phase of rapid involution – peak involution – is intimately linked to an early stage of convergent extension, which involves differential cell migration in the prechordal mesoderm and a new movement of the chordamesoderm, radial convergence. The latter process depends on Xenopus Brachyury, the expression of which at the time of peak involution is controlled by signaling through the ephrin receptor, EphA4, its ligand ephrinB2 and its downstream effector p21-activated kinase. Our findings support a conserved role for Brachyury in blastopore morphogenesis.