Home Sciences A series of “cellular tornadoes” sculpt our organs

A series of “cellular tornadoes” sculpt our organs

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A complex spontaneous organization of cells in the form of “tornadoes” produces forces that manage to model tissues and organs: in this way, the cells slowly chisel out the shape of the internal structures of the human body.

Researchers at the University of Geneva in Switzerland have discovered that muscle cells spontaneously create tornado-like structures, which resemble the formations observed in the development of the embryo. These spontaneous movements derive, due to the effect of different physical variables, in the shape of our tissues and organs: in this way, the cells form the folds of the intestine or the alveoli of the lungs, among many other examples.

spontaneous cell organization

How are the multiples generated? forms of our organs and tissues? Can the mechanism be reproduced in a laboratory? Those questions are the ones that Swiss specialists have tried to answer in the new investigation, and it seems that they have made considerable progress on the way to clarifying the mystery. In principle, they have been able to describe the mechanism through which cells develop this enormous diversity of forms inside the human body.

According to a press release, the scientists used muscle cells to make them spontaneously reproduce simple shapes on a plate. In the experiment, the researchers observed that the cells rapidly self-organized, lining up in the same direction. This creates a circular movement around a vortex, which by orienting the cells allows them to join forces and form a bulge.

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The cylindrical protuberance is held by the collective rotational forces produced by the cells as a whole, creating an effect similar to that of a tornado. Consequently, the formation of these “cellular tornadoes” would constitute a mechanism of spontaneous morphogenesis, that is, the creation of forms from the unique properties of multicellular assemblages. The results of the new study have been published in the journal Nature Materials.

Video: A team from the University of Geneva has shown that cells self-organize to generate the forces that shape the shapes of our tissues and organs. Credit: University of Geneva (UNIGE) / YouTube.

Unique shapes that allow life

To carry out their research, the specialists started from some prior knowledge. They knew, for example, that when the activity or space between cells is restricted, they organize themselves and spontaneously adopt collective behaviors. This dynamic is unique to multicellular interaction: it does not exist at the scale of a single cell. At the same time, they wanted to verify if one of these collective behaviors was the adoption of particular forms by a multicellular tissue.

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In addition to verifying this hypothesis, they managed to verify that cells do not escape the laws of physics. On the contrary, they are subject to the same limitations as all materials, but they exploit them to concentrate their forces and create forms that can only be seen in living organisms. In the same vein, scientists also believe that spontaneous self-organization without biochemical regulation could be the initial stage in the formation of protuberances in the embryo.

Similar mechanisms even control the organization of the cells themselves and determine the shape they will take. Faced with this, the researchers will seek to analyze simple examples of embryos in new studies, to compare them with theoretical models and in vitro experiments, trying to understand the different processes that regulate the formation of internal structures. Apparently, it is the cells themselves and their dynamics that end up “designing” the shapes of the organs that make vital functions possible.

Reference

Integer topological defects organize stresses driving tissue morphogenesis. Guillamat, P., Blanch-Mercader, C., Pernollet, G. et al. Nature Materials (2022). DOI:https://doi.org/10.1038/s41563-022-01194-5

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