Cells are active materials; they can change shape using internal energy to build contractile networks of actin filaments and myosin motors. Contractility of the actomyosin cortex is tightly regulated in space and time to orchestrate cell shape changes. Conserved biochemical pathways regulate actomyosin networks in subcellular domains which drive cell shape changes. Actomyosin networks display complex dynamics, such as flows and pulses, which participate in myosin distribution and provide a more realistic description of the spatial distribution and evolution of forces during morphogenesis. Such dynamics are influenced by the mechanical properties of actomyosin networks. Moreover, actomyosin can self-organize and respond to mechanical stimuli through multiple types of biomechanical feedback. In this review we propose a framework encapsulating spatiotemporal regulation of contractility from established pathways with the dynamics and mechanics of actomyosin networks. Through the comparison of cytokinesis, cell migration and epithelial morphogenesis, we delineate emergent properties of contractile activity, including self-organization, adaptability and robustness.
Copyright © 2011. Published by Elsevier Ltd.