Regulation of cell division by mechanical force in tissues: speed versus strength

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: School of Biological Sciences


The cells and tissues of our bodies are constantly being pushed and pulled and it is vital that they sense and respond to these mechanical forces appropriately to maintain normal tissue function1. Whilst we are beginning to understand some of the cellular mechanisms that link cell behaviour with mechanical force in isolated cells, we know much less about how this applies to the complex tissues of our bodies. Bridging this gap is important considering the significant mechanical changes that take place in tissues as they are formed and shaped in the embryo and as they age and become diseased (e.g. via cancer) in the adult.

In this project, we will investigate how a fundamental cellular function - cell division - is regulated by mechanical force in a complex embryonic tissue. In recent work, we have shown that epithelial cells are exquisitely sensitive to low levels of stretching (tensile) force, which increases their cell division rate and reorients divisions along the axis of stretch2. For this PhD project, we will build on these findings to ask a crucial question: how does the speed of a stretch alter the regulation of cell division? This is important because all studies to date have focused on fast stretches of cells, which don't reflect the slower stretches that most commonly occur in embryonic and adult tissue. In preliminary data we find marked differences in how a tissue responds to slow versus fast stretches. These results have the potential to change how we think about mechanical regulation of cells and tissues.

For their PhD, the student will:
1. Use live confocal microscopy to image cell division in stretched and unstretched tissue.
2. Develop/apply mathematical modelling to understand patterns of mechanical force in tissue3,4.
3. Determine how the regulation of the actin cytoskeleton and membrane tension5 control tissue responses to force.

This is an interdisciplinary project that is well-suited to students from a wide range of academic disciplines: biological, mathematical and physical. The exact content of the project can be adapted according to the academic background of the selected candidate and will provide a solid foundation in cell and developmental biology and its intersection with biophysics and mathematics. The student will build a diverse and novel skill set, combining embryology, advanced microscopy and cutting-edge mathematical/computational analysis and will benefit from supervision by a team of scientists who bring complementary areas of expertise and years of experience supervising interdisciplinary projects of this kind.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
BB/T008725/1 01/10/2020 30/09/2028
2627308 Studentship BB/T008725/1 01/10/2021 30/09/2025 Iona Norwood