During development, in addition to acquiring a particular fate, cells in a tissue must complete the formidable task of acquiring the correct form. Through this process of morphogenesis, tissues and organs take their shape and correct position in the body. It is becoming clear that common changes in cell behaviours can drive very different outcomes in different contexts. Tissues can bend and branch in many ways, and this is driven by changes in cell adhesion, cell shape, cell migration and the ability of cells to integrate signalling networks and mechanical cues.

Studies of invertebrate morphogenesis have provided vital test beds for dissecting the cell biological events that promote tissue morphogenesis. More recent advances, for example in real-time imaging, have also allowed new insights into the basis of morphogenesis in several mammalian tissues. This has important implications, given the large number of human diseases that arise when morphogenesis goes awry.

This collection of specially commissioned articles highlights key examples of models in which our understanding of morphogenesis is gaining new ground. Importantly, the cell biological principles that emerge from these studies are likely to apply to other developmental contexts. The Nature Research-library included here also brings together other articles of particular relevance, including Reviews and Research papers on the broad topic of morphogenesis.

Research Highlights

Development: The epithelial contortionists


Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology 12, 545 (2011)

In brief

Development | Epigenetics | Development | PDF (175 KB)

p549 | doi:10.1038/nrm3181

Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology 12, 161


Integrated morphodynamic signalling of the mammary gland

Nikolce Gjorevski & Celeste M. Nelson


Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology 12, 581-593 (2011)

During mammary gland development, signalling networks between epithelial cells and several cell types in the stroma are orchestrated together with mechanical cues and collective cell migration events to drive morphogenesis.

Understanding morphogenetic growth control — lessons from flies

Ortrud Wartlick, Peer Mumcu, Frank Jülicher & Marcos Gonzalez-Gaitan


Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology 12, 594-604 (2011)

Four models have been proposed to explain growth control mediated by the morphogen Decapentaplegic in the fly imaginal disc. Recent findings have allowed a more careful evaluation of these models and may offer insights into morphogenetic growth control in other systems.

Deconstructing the skin: cytoarchitectural determinants of epidermal morphogenesis

Cory L. Simpson, Dipal M. Patel & Kathleen J. Green


Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology 12, 565-580 (2011)

Keratinocytes of the epidermis undergo several transformations as they differentiate and migrate outwards in the tissue to maintain epidermal homeostasis. Dynamic changes in adhesive junctions and the cytoskeleton of keratinocytes are a driving force in this morphogenesis.

Molecular control of endothelial cell behaviour during blood vessel morphogenesis

Shane P. Herbert & Didier Y. R. Stainier


Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology 12, 551-564 (2011)

The coordinated control of endothelial cell behaviour is critical for blood vessel morphogenesis. Recent data reveal elaborate mechanisms that fine-tune key signalling pathways (such as the vascular endothelial growth factor and Notch pathways) to control endothelial cell behaviour during blood vessel sprouting (angiogenesis).


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