Active forces driving spreading and retraction of living tissues
Carlos Pérez González, Integrative Cell and Tissue Dynamics group
Development, regeneration and cancer involve drastic transitions in tissue morphology. In analogy with the behaviour of inert fluids, some of these transitions have been interpreted as wetting transitions. The validity and scope of this analogy are unclear, however, because the active cellular forces that drive tissue wetting have been neither measured nor theoretically accounted for. In this thesis, we show that the transition between two-dimensional epithelial monolayers and three-dimensional spheroidal aggregates can be understood as an active wetting transition whose physics differs fundamentally from that of passive wetting phenomena. By combining an active polar fluid model with measurements of physical forces as a function of tissue size, contractility, cell–cell and cell–substrate adhesion, and substrate stiffness, we show that the wetting transition results from the competition between traction forces and contractile intercellular stresses. This competition defines a new intrinsic length scale that gives rise to a critical size for the wetting transition in tissues, a striking feature that has no counterpart in classical wetting. Finally, we show that active shape fluctuations are dynamically amplified during tissue dewetting. Overall, we conclude that tissue spreading constitutes a prominent example of active wetting—a novel physical scenario that may explain morphological transitions during tissue morphogenesis and tumour progression.