Pulsatile cell-autonomous contractility drives compaction in the mouse embryo

Nat Cell Biol. 2015 Jul;17(7):849-55. doi: 10.1038/ncb3185. Epub 2015 Jun 15.


Mammalian embryos initiate morphogenesis with compaction, which is essential for specifying the first lineages of the blastocyst. The 8-cell-stage mouse embryo compacts by enlarging its cell-cell contacts in a Cdh1-dependent manner. It was therefore proposed that Cdh1 adhesion molecules generate the forces driving compaction. Using micropipette aspiration to map all tensions in a developing embryo, we show that compaction is primarily driven by a twofold increase in tension at the cell-medium interface. We show that the principal force generator of compaction is the actomyosin cortex, which gives rise to pulsed contractions starting at the 8-cell stage. Remarkably, contractions emerge as periodic cortical waves when cells are disengaged from adhesive contacts. In line with this, tension mapping of mzCdh1(-/-) embryos suggests that Cdh1 acts by redirecting contractility away from cell-cell contacts. Our study provides a framework to understand early mammalian embryogenesis and original perspectives on evolutionary conserved pulsed contractions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Actomyosin / physiology
  • Animals
  • Blastomeres / physiology*
  • Cdh1 Proteins / genetics
  • Cdh1 Proteins / physiology
  • Cell Adhesion / physiology
  • Cell Communication / physiology
  • Cell Shape / physiology
  • Embryo, Mammalian / cytology
  • Embryo, Mammalian / embryology*
  • Embryo, Mammalian / physiology*
  • Embryonic Development / physiology*
  • Female
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / genetics
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / metabolism
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Kinetics
  • Male
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Myosin Light Chains / metabolism
  • Time Factors
  • Time-Lapse Imaging


  • Cdh1 Proteins
  • Fzr1 protein, mouse
  • Myosin Light Chains
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • Actomyosin