Positions are available for highly qualified and motivated candidates to study the physical principles of morphogenesis in the Davidson Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh in the Department of Bioengineering. The laboratory focuses on studying the molecular-, cellular, and tissue-scale processes that regulate mechanical properties and force-production during morphogenesis. Projects involve a combination of biophysics, cell biology, bioengineering, and embryology.
Abstract: The formation of the neural tube is crucial for the proper development of the brain and spinal cord and its failure results in congenital disorder known as neural tube defects (NTDs). NTDs are estimated to affect 100,000 births world wide each year. Several known genetic mutations are associated with NTDs but the physical mechanisms by which they act or their effects on neural tube morphogenesis remain unclear. The neural tube begins as a flat sheet of epithelial cells on the surface of the embryo called the neural plate that undergoes a series of shape changes that turn it into an elongated tubular structure, internalized within the embryo. These coordinated tissue level deformations are orchestrated by integrated behaviors of cells within the embryo. Our study aimed to identify the cell behaviors accompanying neural plate shaping, the first step of neural tube formation, in the aquatic frog, Xenopus laevis, embryo.
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Abstract: Embryonic development involves large scale tissue movements that construct complex three dimensional tissue structures, governed by basic physical principles. Fine-grained control of mechanical properties and force production is critical to the successful placement of tissues and organs within the embryo. The active forces and passive mechanical properties not only physically construct the tissue structures, but may also provide feedback to remodel cells, their extracellular matrix, and intercellular adhesions. …
“Mechanics of Morphogenesis” funded through NIH! See the News.
“The goal of this proposal is to understand the physical mechanisms that drive cell shape changes, control cell behaviors, generate forces, and establish passive tissue properties such as stiffness, active force production by convergence and extension, and how passive mechanics and active forces shape a vertebrate embryo. The significance of our work extends beyond defining the mechanical conditions and their role in early development to provide fundamental physical principles for future tissue engineers, allow a more complete understanding of the contribution of tissue mechanics to birth defects, and to understand the role of tissue mechanics in oncogenesis.”
Newly Published: T. R. Jackson, H. Y. Kim, U. L. Balakrishnan, C. Stuckenholz, and L. A. Davidson (2017). Spatiotemporally controlled mechanical cues drive progenitor mesenchymal-to-epithelial transition enabling proper heart formation and function. Current Biology. 27: 1326–1335.
Describes a mesenchymal-to-epithelial transition (MET) in heart progenitor cells that is regulated by temporally specific mechanical cues originating from the endoderm. Accelerating or delaying MET by manipulating the mechanical microenvironment of the heart-forming region leads to abnormal heart anatomy