Microtubule organization is determined by the shape of epithelial cells

Nat Commun. 2016 Oct 25:7:13172. doi: 10.1038/ncomms13172.


Interphase microtubule organization is critical for cell function and tissue architecture. In general, physical mechanisms are sufficient to drive microtubule organization in single cells, whereas cells within tissues are thought to utilize signalling mechanisms. By improving the imaging and quantitation of microtubule alignment within developing Drosophila embryos, here we demonstrate that microtubule alignment underneath the apical surface of epithelial cells follows cell shape. During development, epidermal cell elongation and microtubule alignment occur simultaneously, but by perturbing cell shape, we discover that microtubule organization responds to cell shape, rather than the converse. A simple set of microtubule behaviour rules is sufficient for a computer model to mimic the observed responses to changes in cell surface geometry. Moreover, we show that microtubules colliding with cell boundaries zip-up or depolymerize in an angle-dependent manner, as predicted by the model. Finally, we show microtubule alignment responds to cell shape in diverse epithelia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cadherins / genetics
  • Cadherins / metabolism
  • Cell Shape / genetics*
  • Drosophila Proteins / genetics
  • Drosophila Proteins / metabolism
  • Drosophila melanogaster
  • Embryo, Nonmammalian / metabolism
  • Embryo, Nonmammalian / ultrastructure
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism
  • Epithelial Cells / ultrastructure*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental*
  • Genes, Reporter
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • Interphase
  • Larva / growth & development
  • Larva / metabolism
  • Larva / ultrastructure
  • Luminescent Proteins
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / genetics
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / metabolism
  • Microtubules / metabolism
  • Microtubules / ultrastructure*
  • Morphogenesis / genetics*
  • Optical Imaging
  • Pupa / growth & development
  • Pupa / metabolism
  • Pupa / ultrastructure
  • Red Fluorescent Protein
  • Zygote / growth & development


  • Cadherins
  • Drosophila Proteins
  • Fbp1protein, Drosophila
  • Luminescent Proteins
  • Membrane Glycoproteins
  • fj protein, Drosophila
  • shg protein, Drosophila
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins