Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Feeling the Squeeze

Greater understanding of how cell migration sculpts early embryo development

26 May 2023

Feeling the Squeeze

A critical process in early development, gastrulation defines the transition from a single layer of cells, known as the epiblast, to a more complex structure formed of three germ layers – the endoderm, mesoderm and ectoderm – which later give rise to different structures in the body. A key process in gastrulation is the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT), in which epiblast cells undergo major changes in shape and gene expression to detach from their neighbours and move away. By labelling cell membranes with fluorescent proteins and using time-lapse microscopy, researchers were able to film cells undergoing the EMT (pictured in green) in developing mouse embryos, revealing how cells extract themselves by incrementally contracting their outer, or apical, surfaces (in red). EMTs are also a feature of cell movements later in life, from wound healing to cancer cell migration in metastasis, so studying these transitions could inspire new ways to prevent cancers from spreading.

Written by Emmanuelle Briolat

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