Shape instructs future fate of cells

How does a cell decide what type of cell it will be after cell division? This process was recently described by Roeland Merks and Cong Chen of DTL partner CWI in the journal Nature Communications.

Together with a Japanese team of biologists, the CWI researchers discovered that the cell’s shape before division (co-)determines the functions of its daughter cells. Although a cell will lose its form before its division, becoming round, the information about the original form turns out to be preserved. This is controlled by the diffusion of a specific protein, Delta-protein, on the cell membrane. The new model supports experimental research on nerve cells of zebrafish. The researchers are now able to predict what a cell will do after division.

Mathematical biologist Roeland Merks explains: “After its division, a cell can get a new function. Until now it was not known whether the cell shape plays a role in this process. We modelled cells from the nervous system of zebrafish. In their development a cell called ‘V2’ splits into daughter cells of type V2a and V2b. The mother cell has the shape of a teardrop. The V2a-cell appears to arise more frequently on the side of the tip of this drop. We developed an explanatory model that follows the concentration and diffusion of Delta-protein during the shape changes and cell divisions. In our model, the Japanese team could control the decision of the cell. They do so by manipulating the cell shape with lasers in order to influence the function of the daughter cells.”

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