During early embryonic development, cells are organized as cohesive epithelial sheets that are continuously growing and remodeled without losing their integrity, giving rise to a wide array of tissue shapes. Here, using live imaging in chick embryo, we investigate how epithelial cells rearrange during gastrulation. We find that cell division is a major rearrangement driver that powers dramatic epithelial cell intercalation events. We show that these cell division-mediated intercalations, which represent the majority of epithelial rearrangements within the early embryo, are absolutely necessary for the spatial patterning of gastrulation movements. Furthermore, we demonstrate that these intercalation events result from overall low cortical actomyosin accumulation within the epithelial cells of the embryo, which enables dividing cells to remodel junctions in their vicinity. These findings uncover a role for cell division as coordinator of epithelial growth and remodeling that might underlie various developmental, homeostatic, or pathological processes in amniotes.
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