Rectified random cell motility as a mechanism for embryo elongation

Development. 2022 Mar 15;149(6):dev199423. doi: 10.1242/dev.199423. Epub 2022 Mar 28.


The body of vertebrate embryos forms by posterior elongation from a terminal growth zone called the tail bud. The tail bud is a source of highly motile cells that eventually constitute the presomitic mesoderm (PSM), a tissue that plays an important role in elongation movements. PSM cells establish an anterior-posterior cell motility gradient that parallels a gradient associated with the degradation of a specific cellular signal (FGF) known to be implicated in cell motility. Here, we combine the electroporation of fluorescent reporters in the PSM with time-lapse imaging in the chicken embryo to quantify cell diffusive movements along the motility gradient. We show that a simple microscopic model for random cell motility induced by FGF activity along with geometric confinement leads to rectified tissue elongation consistent with our observations. A continuum analog of the microscopic model leads to a macroscopic mechano-chemical model for tissue extension that couples FGF activity-induced cell motility and tissue rheology, and is consistent with the experimentally observed speed and extent of elongation. Together, our experimental observations and theoretical models explain how the continuous addition of cells at the tail bud combined with lateral confinement can be converted into oriented movement and drive body elongation.

Keywords: Chick morphogenesis; Embryo elongation; Rectified motility; Tissue expansion.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Movement
  • Chick Embryo
  • Embryo, Mammalian*
  • Mesoderm* / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction
  • Vertebrates