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Mechanical Stress Inference for Two Dimensional Cell Arrays

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DOI: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002512
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Many morphogenetic processes involve mechanical rearrangement of epithelial tissues that is driven by precisely regulated cytoskeletal forces and cell adhesion. The mechanical state of the cell and intercellular adhesion are not only the targets of regulation, but are themselves likely signals that coordinate developmental process. Yet, because it is difficult to directly measure mechanical stress {\it in vivo} on sub-cellular scale, little is understood about the role of mechanics of development. Here we present an alternative approach which takes advantage of the recent progress in live imaging of morphogenetic processes and uses computational analysis of high resolution images of epithelial tissues to infer relative magnitude of forces acting within and between cells. We model intracellular stress in terms of bulk pressure and interfacial tension, allowing these parameters to vary from cell to cell and from interface to interface. Assuming that epithelial cell layers are close to mechanical equilibrium, we use the observed geometry of the two dimensional cell array to infer interfacial tensions and intracellular pressures. Here we present the mathematical formulation of the proposed Mechanical Inverse method and apply it to the analysis of epithelial cell layers observed at the onset of ventral furrow formation in the {\it Drosophila} embryo and in the process of hair-cell determination in the avian cochlea. The analysis reveals mechanical anisotropy in the former process and mechanical heterogeneity, correlated with cell differentiation, in the latter process. The method opens a way for quantitative and detailed experimental tests of models of cell and tissue mechanics.


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