The plastic cell: mechanical deformation of cells and tissues.
Abstract: Epithelial cells possess the ability to change their shape in response to mechanical stress by remodelling their junctions and their cytoskeleton. This property lies at the heart of tissue morphogenesis in embryos. A key feature of embryonic cell shape changes is that they result from repeated mechanical inputs that make them partially irreversible at each step. Past work on cell rheology has rarely addressed how changes can become irreversible in a complex tissue. Here, we review new and exciting findings dissecting some of the physical principles and molecular mechanisms accounting for irreversible cell shape changes. We discuss concepts of mechanical ratchets and tension thresholds required to induce permanent cell deformations akin to mechanical plasticity. Work in different systems has highlighted the importance of actin remodelling and of E-cadherin endocytosis. We also list some novel experimental approaches to fine-tune mechanical tension, using optogenetics, magnetic beads or stretching of suspended epithelial tissues. Finally, we discuss some mathematical models that have been used to describe the quantitative aspects of accounting for mechanical cell plasticity and offer perspectives on this rapidly evolving field.