How to build an epithelial tree

Sarah V. Paramore, Katharine Goodwin, Celeste M. Nelson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Nature has evolved a variety of mechanisms to build epithelial trees of diverse architectures within different organs and across species. Epithelial trees are elaborated through branch initiation and extension, and their morphogenesis ends with branch termination. Each of these steps of the branching process can be driven by the actions of epithelial cells themselves (epithelial-intrinsic mechanisms) or by the cells of their surrounding tissues (epithelial-extrinsic mechanisms). Here, we describe examples of how these mechanisms drive each stage of branching morphogenesis, drawing primarily from studies of the lung, kidney, salivary gland, mammary gland, and pancreas, all of which contain epithelial trees that form through collective cell behaviors. Much of our understanding of epithelial branching comes from experiments using mice, but we also include examples here from avian and reptilian models. Throughout, we highlight how distinct mechanisms are employed in different organs and species to build epithelial trees. We also highlight how similar morphogenetic motifs are used to carry out conserved developmental programs or repurposed to support novel ones. Understanding the unique strategies used by nature to build branched epithelia from across the tree of life can help to inspire creative solutions to problems in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number061002
JournalPhysical Biology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biophysics
  • Structural Biology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


  • mechanical stress
  • morphodynamics
  • organogenesis
  • patterning


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