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Dev Dyn. 2000 May;218(1):30-51.

Fusomorphogenesis: cell fusion in organ formation.

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Department of Biology, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa.


Cell fusion is a universal process that occurs during fertilization and in the formation of organs such as muscles, placenta, and bones. Very little is known about the molecular and cellular mechanisms of cell fusion during pattern formation. Here we review the dynamic anatomy of all cell fusions during embryonic and postembryonic development in an organism. Nearly all the cell fates and cell lineages are invariant in the nematode C. elegans and one third of the cells that are born fuse to form 44 syncytia in a reproducible and stereotyped way. To explain the function of cell fusion in organ formation we propose the fusomorphogenetic model as a simple cellular mechanism to efficiently redistribute membranes using a combination of cell fusion and polarized membrane recycling during morphogenesis. Thus, regulated intercellular and intracellular membrane fusion processes may drive elongation of the embryo as well as postembryonic organ formation in C. elegans. Finally, we use the fusomorphogenetic hypothesis to explain the role of cell fusion in the formation of organs like muscles, bones, and placenta in mammals and other species and to speculate on how the intracellular machinery that drive fusomorphogenesis may have evolved.

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