Modeling epithelial tissue and cell deformation dynamics using a viscoelastic slab sculpted by surface forces

Xinxin Du, Michael J. Shelley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


During morphogenesis, epithelial monolayers actively alter their shape to create future body parts of the animal; this makes the epithelium one of the most active and critical structures in early animal development. While epithelia are often modeled as two-dimensional systems, real epithelia are not necessarily thin relative to cell cross section, and advances in 3D imaging have shown the possibility of substantial cell deformations in the third dimension, as well as differences in dynamics of the apical and basal surfaces indicative of three-dimensional coupling. With the importance of the third dimension in mind, we have developed a self-sculpting, three-dimensional model of epithelia whose dynamics are driven by active forces on its surface. We present a first, fundamental study for a reduced version of epithelia that investigates how surface forces affect its internal dynamics. Our model captures the 3D slab-like geometry of epithelia, viscoelasticity of tissue response, fluid surroundings, and driving from active surface forces. We represent epithelial tissue as a thick slab, a 3D continuum comprised of a Stokes fluid with an extra viscoelastic stress. Employing this model, we present both analytical and numerical solutions of the system and make quantitative predictions about cell shapes, cell dynamics, and the tissue's response to surface force in a three-dimensional setting. In particular, we investigate the implications of our model on the initiation of ventral furrow invagination and T1 transitions in Drosophila embryogenesis. In the former, we demonstrate the importance of fluid and geometric surroundings to drive invagination. In the latter, we show the limitations of surface forces alone to drive T1 transitions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number023190
JournalPhysical Review Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Physics and Astronomy


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