Using optogenetics to link myosin patterns to contractile cell behaviors during convergent extension

Biophys J. 2021 Oct 5;120(19):4214-4229. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2021.06.041. Epub 2021 Jul 20.


Distinct patterns of actomyosin contractility are often associated with particular epithelial tissue shape changes during development. For example, a planar-polarized pattern of myosin II localization regulated by Rho1 signaling during Drosophila body axis elongation is thought to drive cell behaviors that contribute to convergent extension. However, it is not well understood how specific aspects of a myosin pattern influence the multiple cell behaviors, including cell intercalation, cell shape changes, and apical cell area fluctuations, that simultaneously occur during morphogenesis. Here, we developed two optogenetic tools, optoGEF and optoGAP, to activate or deactivate Rho1 signaling, respectively. We used these tools to manipulate myosin patterns at the apical side of the germband epithelium during Drosophila axis elongation and analyzed the effects on contractile cell behaviors. We show that uniform activation or inactivation of Rho1 signaling across the apical surface of the germband is sufficient to disrupt the planar-polarized pattern of myosin at cell junctions on the timescale of 3-5 min, leading to distinct changes in junctional and medial myosin patterns in optoGEF and optoGAP embryos. These two perturbations to Rho1 activity both disrupt axis elongation and cell intercalation but have distinct effects on cell area fluctuations and cell packings that are linked with changes in the medial and junctional myosin pools. These studies demonstrate that acute optogenetic perturbations to Rho1 activity are sufficient to rapidly override the endogenous planar-polarized myosin pattern in the germband during axis elongation. Moreover, our results reveal that the levels of Rho1 activity and the balance between medial and junctional myosin play key roles not only in organizing the cell rearrangements that are known to directly contribute to axis elongation but also in regulating cell area fluctuations and cell packings, which have been proposed to be important factors influencing the mechanics of tissue deformation and flow.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Polarity
  • Drosophila Proteins* / genetics
  • Drosophila melanogaster*
  • Morphogenesis
  • Myosin Type II / genetics
  • Optogenetics


  • Drosophila Proteins
  • Myosin Type II