Tissue rheology in embryonic organization

EMBO J. 2019 Oct 15;38(20):e102497. doi: 10.15252/embj.2019102497. Epub 2019 Sep 12.


Tissue morphogenesis in multicellular organisms is brought about by spatiotemporal coordination of mechanical and chemical signals. Extensive work on how mechanical forces together with the well-established morphogen signalling pathways can actively shape living tissues has revealed evolutionary conserved mechanochemical features of embryonic development. More recently, attention has been drawn to the description of tissue material properties and how they can influence certain morphogenetic processes. Interestingly, besides the role of tissue material properties in determining how much tissues deform in response to force application, there is increasing theoretical and experimental evidence, suggesting that tissue material properties can abruptly and drastically change in development. These changes resemble phase transitions, pointing at the intriguing possibility that important morphogenetic processes in development, such as symmetry breaking and self-organization, might be mediated by tissue phase transitions. In this review, we summarize recent findings on the regulation and role of tissue material properties in the context of the developing embryo. We posit that abrupt changes of tissue rheological properties may have important implications in maintaining the balance between robustness and adaptability during embryonic development.

Keywords: embryonic development; morphogenesis; phase transitions; tissue material properties; tissue rheology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Cell Differentiation*
  • Embryonic Development*
  • Humans
  • Morphogenesis*
  • Rheology*
  • Signal Transduction*