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Development. 2009 Feb;136(4):677-88. doi: 10.1242/dev.026211.

Actomyosin stiffens the vertebrate embryo during crucial stages of elongation and neural tube closure.

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Department of Bioengineering, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15260, USA.


Physical forces drive the movement of tissues within the early embryo. Classical and modern approaches have been used to infer and, in rare cases, measure mechanical properties and the location and magnitude of forces within embryos. Elongation of the dorsal axis is a crucial event in early vertebrate development, yet the mechanics of dorsal tissues in driving embryonic elongation that later support neural tube closure and formation of the central nervous system is not known. Among vertebrates, amphibian embryos allow complex physical manipulation of embryonic tissues that are required to measure the mechanical properties of tissues. In this paper, we measure the stiffness of dorsal isolate explants of frog (Xenopus laevis) from gastrulation to neurulation and find dorsal tissues stiffen from less than 20 Pascal (Pa) to over 80 Pa. By iteratively removing tissues from these explants, we find paraxial somitic mesoderm is nearly twice as stiff as either the notochord or neural plate, and at least 10-fold stiffer than the endoderm. Stiffness measurements from explants with reduced fibronectin fibril assembly or disrupted actomyosin contractility suggest that it is the state of the actomyosin cell cortex rather than accumulating fibronectin that controls tissue stiffness in early amphibian embryos.

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