Shape instructs future fate of cells in Nature Communications

How does a cell make a decision about his future, on what type of cell it will be after the cell division? This process is described by Roeland Merks and Cong Chen of the Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica (CWI) in Amsterdam in an article in Nature Communications that was published on 28 June, together with a Japanese team of biologists.

Publication date: 13-07-2016

How does a cell make a decision about his future, on what type of cell it will be after the cell division? This process is described by Roeland Merks and Cong Chen of the Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica (CWI) in Amsterdam in an article in Nature Communications that was published on 28 June, together with a Japanese team of biologists. The researchers discovered that the cell shape before its division (co-)determines the functions of the daughter cells. Although a cell will lose its form before its division, becoming round, the information about the original form turns out to be preserved. This is controlled by the diffusion of a specific protein - Delta-protein - on the cell membrane. The new model supports experimental research on nerve cells of zebrafish. The researchers are now able to predict what a cell is going to do after division.

Mathematical biologist Roeland Merks explains: "After its division, a cell can get a new function. Until now it was not known whether the cell shape plays a role in this process. We modelled cells from the nervous system of zebrafish. In their development a cell called 'V2' splits into daughter cells of type V2a and V2b. The mother cell has the shape of a teardrop. The V2a-cell appears to arise more frequently on the side of the tip of this drop. We developed an explanatory model that follows the concentration and diffusion of Delta-protein during the shape changes and cell divisions. In our model, the Japanese team could control the decision of the cell. They do so by manipulating the cell shape with lasers in order to influence the function of the daughter cells."

The research team consists of Takashi Akanuma (ATR in Japan), Cong Chen (CWI and UvA), Tetsuo Sato (ATR in Japan), Roeland M.H. Merks (CWI and UL) & Thomas N. Sato (JST in Japan, Cornell University in the USA and CI in Sydney, Australia). The article was published online on 28 June 2016: Akanuma, T. et al. Memory of cell shape biases stochastic fate decision-making despite mitotic rounding. Nat. Commun. 7:11963 doi: 10.1038/ncomms11963 (2016).

The Dutch part of the research was carried out in the Life Sciences research group at CWI. The Japanese experiments for this study are led by Thomas N. Sato.

More information:
- Homepage Roeland Merks
- The Biomodelling and Biosystems Analysis Group is part of CWI's Life Sciences group
- The news item from Japan on this research


Photo: Zebrafish. Picture: Shutterstock/topimages.