Epithelial topology

Radhika Nagpal, Ankit Patel, Matthew C. Gibson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


It is universally accepted that genetic control over basic aspects of cell and molecular biology is the primary organizing principle in development and homeostasis of living systems. However, instances do exist where important aspects of biological order arise without explicit genetic instruction, emerging instead from simple physical principles, stochastic processes, or the complex self-organizing interaction between random and seemingly unrelated parts. Being mostly resistant to direct genetic dissection, the analysis of such emergent processes falls into a grey area between mathematics, physics and molecular cell biology and therefore remains very poorly understood. We recently proposed a mathematical model predicting the emergence of a specific non-Gaussian distribution of polygonal cell shapes from the stochastic cell division process in epithelial cell sheets; this cell shape distribution appears to be conserved across a diverse set of animals and plants.(1) The use of such topological models to study the process of cellular morphogenesis has a long history, starting almost a century ago, and many insights from those original works influence current experimental studies. Here we review current and past literature on this topic while exploring some new ideas on the origins and implications of topological order in proliferating epithelia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)260-266
Number of pages7
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2008
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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