Shiver me timbers: Pulsatile Contractility in Model Tissues
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Cells self-assemble and differentiate to form functional structures. This theme is ubiquitous throughout multicellular life and happens all along an organism's lifespan, from embryogenesis to tissue maintenance in a mature adult. Understanding how cells interact to form functional structures is a fundamental challenge in biology and biophysics; characterizing and targeting interactions such that they can be used for regenerative or therapeutic purposes is a major goal in bioengineering and medicine. In PNAS, Guevorkian et al. (1) study a multicellular aggregate that serves as a model tissue. Through experiments and analytical and numerical modeling, they find that small clusters of cells can respond to an externally imposed stretching force by pulsed contractions, which they dub “shivering” (1). The pulsatile nature of this response results from a threshold value of deformation required to trigger contractility; if the applied deformation is appropriately sized, contraction can reduce the deformation such that it then falls below the threshold value, causing the contraction to stop and then restart if the deformation continues. This active thresholded response constitutes an important potential class of interaction for sensitively shaping tissues.