Rheology and Collective Behavior in Epithelial Tissue

Rheology and Collective Behavior in Epithelial Tissue

Soft Matter & Physics of Living Systems


October 23, 2018 - 3:00pm to 4:00pm


Georgia Tech


Recent experiments and simulations have indicated that confluent epithelial layers, where there are no gaps or overlaps between the cells, can transition from a soft fluid-like state to a solid-like state, with dynamics that share many features with glass transitions. While a coherent picture has begun to form connecting the microscopic mechanisms that drive this transition with macroscopic observables, much less is known of its consequences in biological processes. Do tissues tune themselves to a fluid state in order to promote collective motion? Has evolution made use of the ability of tissues to tune themselves between fluid and solid states in programming the complex steps leading from the embryo to the organism?

In this talk I will describe our recent efforts to answer such questions using continuum and mesoscopic models. Employing the biophysical vertex model, active cells in confluent tissue are described as polygons with shape-based energies. Recent work has shown that this class of models yields a solid-liquid transition of tissue with evidence of glassy dynamics near the transition line. In our work, we extend one such model to include the influence of cell division and cell death. With careful numerical studies, we refute a recent claim that the presence of such division and death will always fluidify the tissue.

In a second effort, we develop a novel hydrodynamic model of confluent motile tissues that couples tissue rigidity to cell polarization. Using this continuum model we identify a new mechanism for pattern formation in confluent tissues via rigidity sensing that we name “morphotaxis”. We find that a single “morphotactic” parameter controls whether a tissue will remain homogeneous or will develop patterns such as asters and bands.