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Intrinsic and extrinsic cues drive dynamic processes that control cell fate during organ development. A study of mouse and human cells reveals how these inputs affect cells that make the essential hormone insulin.
During development, cells proliferate and differentiate to enable organs to achieve their final functional architecture1. As cells develop to reach their mature state, they respond to various extrinsic cues provided by the surrounding microenvironment and acquire a fate that can be determined by their location in a tissue. But little is known about how these cues drive intracellular changes, such as transcription or differentiation, or how tissue architecture and cellular rearrangements can, in turn, affect cell fate. Writing in Nature, Mamidi et al.2 provide insight into how cell location and exposure to certain external cues can affect whether cells in the developing pancreas give rise to β-cells that make the protein insulin. Deficiencies in insulin-producing cells can lead to diabetes, so a better understanding of how these cells form could have clinical implications.