We sought to understand how cells collectively elongate epithelial tubes. We first used 3D culture and biosensor imaging to demonstrate that epithelial cells enrich Ras activity, phosphatidylinositol (3,4,5)-trisphosphate (PIP3), and F-actin to their leading edges during migration within tissues. PIP3 enrichment coincided with, and could enrich despite inhibition of, F-actin dynamics, revealing a conserved migratory logic compared with single cells. We discovered that migratory cells can intercalate into the basal tissue surface and contribute to tube elongation. We then connected molecular activities to subcellular mechanics using force inference analysis. Migration and transient intercalation required specific and similar anterior-posterior ratios of interfacial tension. Permanent intercalations were distinguished by their capture at the boundary through time-varying tension dynamics. Finally, we integrated our experimental and computational data to generate a finite element model of tube elongation. Our model revealed that intercalation, interfacial tension dynamics, and high basal stress are together sufficient for mammary morphogenesis.
Keywords: branching morphogenesis; cell migration; cellular force inference toolkit (CellFIT); epithelial biology; finite element modeling; interfacial tension; mammary gland; mechanical signaling; radial intercalation.
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