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Mesoscale physical principles of collective cell organization


We review recent evidence showing that cell and tissue dynamics are governed by mesoscale physical principles. These principles can be understood in terms of simple state diagrams in which control variables include force, density, shape, adhesion and self-propulsion. An appropriate combination of these physical quantities gives rise to emergent phenomena such as cell jamming, topological defects and underdamped waves. Mesoscale physical properties of cell assemblies are found to precede and instruct biological functions such as cell division, extrusion, invasion and gradient sensing. These properties are related to properties of biomolecules, but cannot be predicted from biochemical principles. Thus, biological function is governed by emergent mesoscale states that can be predicted by a simple set of physical properties.

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Fig. 1: Subcellular determinants of cell dynamics.
Fig. 2: Examples of emergent phenomena in cell monolayers.

adapted from ref. 2, Macmillan Publishers Ltd (a); ref. 78, Macmillan Publishers Ltd (b); and ref. 4, AAAS (c)

Fig. 3: State diagrams of cell monolayers.

adapted from ref. 86, RSC, and ref. 87, Macmillan Publishers Ltd (a); and courtesy of R. Cerbino and F. Giavazzi (b,c).


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We apologize to the many colleagues whose work could not be cited owing to space constraints. We thank E. Latorre, F. Giavazzi, R. Cerbino, G. Jacquemet, J. Ivaska, J. Taraska and K. Sochacki for contributing original materials, and all members of our laboratories for critical comments and encouragement. The authors acknowledge support by the Spanish Ministry of Economy, Industry and Competitiveness through the Centro de Excelencia Severo Ochoa Award to the Institute of Bioengineering of Catalonia (X.T.) and through grant BFU2015-65074-P (X.T.), the Generalitat de Catalunya (Cerca Program and 2014-SGR-927 to X.T.), the European Research Council (CoG-616480 to X.T.) and the European Commission (project 731957 to X.T.). E.S. is funded by the Francis Crick Institute, which receives its core funding from Cancer Research UK (FC001144), the UK Medical Research Council (FC001144) and the Wellcome Trust (FC001144).

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Correspondence to Xavier Trepat or Erik Sahai.

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Trepat, X., Sahai, E. Mesoscale physical principles of collective cell organization. Nature Phys 14, 671–682 (2018).

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