Mechanics-guided differentiation in embryonic tissue ex vivo

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Cell and Developmental Biology


During embryonic development, the establishment of gene expression patterns and morphogenesis interact together to give rise to complex tissues and organs. Cells are known to respond to mechanical stimuli, and mechanical deformation of cell shape caused by morphogenetic movements can feed back to signalling networks controlling differentiation. Despite the identification of gene regulatory networks involved in fate choice during embryogenesis, the role of tissue mechanics in modulating differentiation in vivo is poorly understood. This interdisciplinary project combines expertise in biomechanics (Guillaume Charras, London Centre for Nanotechnology) and Xenopus developmental biology (Roberto Mayor, UCL) to study how tissue mechanics control cell fate choices through molecular and biomechanical approaches applied in vivo and in embryonic tissue explant cultures. The molecular mechanisms required for mechanotransduction and control of cell fate will be investigated. Understanding how cells respond to mechanical signals is crucial for developing successful in vitro approaches for stem cell therapy, regenerative biology, and organogenesis.


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Description The project has set out to study the effects of manipulation of cell mechanics on the development of vertebrate embryos and several observations were made that suggest an involvement of mechanico-chemical signaling in key morphogenetic movements and signalling in the early Xenopus embryo. These observations might support the further development of organoid systems in other species which may effect the success of this technology in diagnostic and therapeutic settings.
Exploitation Route The outcomes of this project may be used to generate new hypotheses about embryonic development and the role of mechanics in specifying cell fate and/or cell behaviour. Furthermore, the experimental tools used have been developed or adapted to work in the Xenopus system and may be useful for other researchers using this system.
Sectors Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology