Scientists shed new light on the mechanical regulation of epithelial tissue homeostasis
An international team of scientists, led by Professor Ana-Sunčane Smith from the Croatian Ruđer Bošković Institute (RBI) and Friedrich-Alexander University in Erlangen-Nürnberg in Germany, provided new information on the impact of mechanical properties on the organization and growth of cell tissues. These results could contribute to a better understanding of tissue regeneration as well as to the diagnosis of various pathologies. The team recently published their findings in the prestigious scientific journal Physical Review X, one of the world’s leading journals in the field of physics.
During our lifetime, due to illness or injury to the body, the elastic properties of the extracellular matrix change. Adaptations to these changes have so far been analyzed at the cellular level as part of the mechano-response, however, the impact of the mechanical properties of the microenvironment on the structure of epithelial tissues, those that provide a protective outer layer. organs and the body as a whole, have not been analyzed in detail.
By skillfully combining theoretical and experimental biophysical methods, the researchers studied models of simple epithelial tissues. They demonstrated that the rigidity of the extracellular matrix dictates the self-structuring and growth of tissue at all length scales.
“In our experiments, we cultured epithelial tissue on substrates that produce varying stress levels on the overlying tissue. At the cellular level, we found a stiffness-induced transition from the squamous epithelium to the tubular epithelium. At the tissue level, we have demonstrated that cells self-organize into macroscopic compartments with different cell dynamics and organizations. These results demonstrated a more complex relationship between cell density and cell motility than previously known. More interestingly, we found that the organization of epithelial tissues is very robust despite displaying widely different densities of the homeostatic state for different rigidities of the microenvironment. These results suggest that in cellular tissue, it is a particular topology, and not the density, of tissue that is actively regulated. This fact could have implications for aging or the diagnosis of medical conditions, ”said Professor Ana Sunčana Smith, who led the research.
It is a particular pleasure to recognize the contribution of young researchers from the Ruđer Bošković Institute, who collaborated with their colleagues from the Friedrich-Alexander University of Erlangen-Nuremberg and the University of Göttingen. Jakov Lovrić, doctoral student in Prof. Smith’s group, performed topological analysis of tissue structure, while Lovro Nuić, student at Zagreb Faculty of Electrical and Computer Engineering, developed computer simulation of tissue growth . For this work, he and his colleague Luka Rogić, a physics student at the Faculty of Science in Zagreb, were awarded the Rector’s Prize in 2021, Prof. Smith said.