Mechanically patterning the embryonic airway epithelium

Victor D. Varner, Jason P. Gleghorn, Erin Miller, Derek C. Radisky, Celeste M. Nelson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

80 Scopus citations


Collections of cells must be patterned spatially during embryonic development to generate the intricate architectures of mature tissues. In several cases, including the formation of the branched airways of the lung, reciprocal signaling between an epithelium and its surrounding mesenchyme helps generate these spatial patterns. Several molecular signals are thought to interact via reactiondiffusion kinetics to create distinct biochemical patterns, which act as molecular precursors to actual, physical patterns of biological structure and function. Here, however, we show that purely physical mechanisms can drive spatial patterning within embryonic epithelia. Specifically, we find that a growth-induced physical instability defines the relative locations of branches within the developing murine airway epithelium in the absence of mesenchyme. The dominant wavelength of this instability determines the branching pattern and is controlled by epithelial growth rates. These data suggest that physical mechanisms can create the biological patterns that underlie tissue morphogenesis in the embryo.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9230-9235
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number30
StatePublished - Jul 28 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • Buckling
  • Instability
  • Mechanical stress
  • Morphodynamics
  • Morphogenesis


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