Principles and mechanisms of asymmetric cell division

Development. 2020 Jun 29;147(13):dev167650. doi: 10.1242/dev.167650.


Asymmetric cell division (ACD) is an evolutionarily conserved mechanism used by prokaryotes and eukaryotes alike to control cell fate and generate cell diversity. A detailed mechanistic understanding of ACD is therefore necessary to understand cell fate decisions in health and disease. ACD can be manifested in the biased segregation of macromolecules, the differential partitioning of cell organelles, or differences in sibling cell size or shape. These events are usually preceded by and influenced by symmetry breaking events and cell polarization. In this Review, we focus predominantly on cell intrinsic mechanisms and their contribution to cell polarization, ACD and binary cell fate decisions. We discuss examples of polarized systems and detail how polarization is established and, whenever possible, how it contributes to ACD. Established and emerging model organisms will be considered alike, illuminating both well-documented and underexplored forms of polarization and ACD.

Keywords: Asymmetric cell division; Cell fate decisions; Cell fate determinants; Non-random segregation; Organelle partitioning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Asymmetric Cell Division / genetics
  • Asymmetric Cell Division / physiology*
  • Cell Differentiation / genetics
  • Cell Differentiation / physiology
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Cell Polarity / genetics
  • Cell Polarity / physiology*
  • Humans