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Phys Biol. 2011 Aug;8(4):045005. doi: 10.1088/1478-3975/8/4/045005. Epub 2011 Jul 12.

Oscillatory behaviors and hierarchical assembly of contractile structures in intercalating cells.

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Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Developmental Biology Program, Sloan-Kettering Institute, 1275 York Avenue, New York, NY 10065, USA.


Fluctuations in the size of the apical cell surface have been associated with apical constriction and tissue invagination. However, it is currently not known if apical oscillatory behaviors are a unique property of constricting cells or if they constitute a universal feature of the force balance between cells in multicellular tissues. Here, we set out to determine whether oscillatory cell behaviors occur in parallel with cell intercalation during the morphogenetic process of axis elongation in the Drosophila embryo. We applied multi-color, time-lapse imaging of living embryos and SIESTA, an integrated tool for automated and semi-automated cell segmentation, tracking, and analysis of image sequences. Using SIESTA, we identified cycles of contraction and expansion of the apical surface in intercalating cells and characterized them at the molecular, cellular, and tissue scales. We demonstrate that apical oscillations are anisotropic, and this anisotropy depends on the presence of intact cell-cell junctions and spatial cues provided by the anterior-posterior patterning system. Oscillatory cell behaviors during axis elongation are associated with the hierarchical assembly and disassembly of contractile actomyosin structures at the medial cortex of the cell, with actin localization preceding myosin II and with the localization of both proteins preceding changes in cell shape. We discuss models to explain how the architecture of cytoskeletal networks regulates their contractile behavior and the mechanisms that give rise to oscillatory cell behaviors in intercalating cells.

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