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The physics of cell-size regulation across timescales


The size of a cell is determined by a combination of synthesis, self-assembly, incoming matter and the balance of mechanical forces. Such processes operate at the single-cell level, but they are deeply interconnected with cell-cycle progression, resulting in a stable average cell size at the population level. Here, we examine this phenomenon by reviewing the physics of growth processes that operate at vastly different timescales, but result in the controlled production of daughter cells that are close copies of their mothers. We first review the regulatory mechanisms of size at short timescales, focusing on the contribution of fundamental physical forces. We then discuss the multiple relevant regulation processes operating on the timescale of the cell cycle. Finally, we look at how these processes interact: one of the most important challenges to date involves bridging the gap between timescales, connecting the physics of cell growth and the biology of cell-cycle progression.

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Fig. 1: Factors setting the steady-state cell volume.
Fig. 2: Cell-volume regulation at short and medium timescales.
Fig. 3: Cell-volume regulation at medium and long timescales.
Fig. 4: Illustration of the timescales at play in the regulation of cell-size parameters.


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M.P. was funded by Institut Curie and CNRS. L.V. has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement no. 641639, and Fondation pour la recherche Médicale (FDT201805005592). P.R. acknowledges support from a CNRS Momentum grant. C.C. acknowledges financial support from the Fondation pour la recherche Médicale (FDT20160435078) and the Ligue Nationale contre le Cancer.

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Correspondence to Pierre Recho, Marco Cosentino Lagomarsino or Matthieu Piel.

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Cadart, C., Venkova, L., Recho, P. et al. The physics of cell-size regulation across timescales. Nat. Phys. 15, 993–1004 (2019).

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