Asymmetric cell divisions (ACDs) result in two unequal daughter cells and are a hallmark of stem cells. ACDs can be achieved either by asymmetric partitioning of proteins and organelles or by asymmetric cell fate acquisition due to the microenvironment in which the daughters are placed. Increasing evidence suggests that in the mammalian epidermis, both of these processes occur. During embryonic epidermal development, changes occur in the orientation of the mitotic spindle in relation to the underlying basement membrane. These changes are guided by conserved molecular machinery that is operative in lower eukaryotes and dictates asymmetric partitioning of proteins during cell divisions. That said, the shift in spindle alignment also determines whether a division will be parallel or perpendicular to the basement membrane, and this in turn provides a differential microenvironment for the resulting daughter cells. Here, we review how oriented divisions of progenitors contribute to the development and stratification of the epidermis.
Keywords: asymmetric cell division; cell fate; spindle orientation; symmetric cell division.