Biology and physics of cell shape changes in development

Curr Biol. 2009 Sep 15;19(17):R790-9. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2009.07.029.


Together with cell growth, division and death, changes in cell shape are of central importance for tissue morphogenesis during development. Cell shape is the product of a cell's material and active properties balanced by external forces. Control of cell shape, therefore, relies on both tight regulation of intracellular mechanics and the cell's physical interaction with its environment. In this review, we first discuss the biological and physical mechanisms of cell shape control. We next examine a number of developmental processes in which cell shape change - either individually or in a coordinated manner - drives embryonic morphogenesis and discuss how cell shape is controlled in these processes. Finally, we emphasize that cell shape control during tissue morphogenesis can only be fully understood by using a combination of cellular, molecular, developmental and biophysical approaches.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Body Patterning / physiology*
  • Cell Adhesion
  • Cell Growth Processes
  • Cell Movement
  • Cell Shape*
  • Drosophila / embryology
  • Embryo, Nonmammalian / cytology
  • Embryonic Development / physiology*
  • Zebrafish / embryology