Embryonic epithelia achieve complex morphogenetic movements, including in-plane reshaping, bending and folding, through the coordinated action and rearrangement of individual cells. Technical advances in molecular and live-imaging studies of epithelial dynamics provide a very real opportunity to understand how cell-level processes facilitate these large-scale tissue rearrangements. However, the large datasets that we are now able to generate require careful interpretation. In combination with experimental approaches, computational modelling allows us to challenge and refine our current understanding of epithelial morphogenesis and to explore experimentally intractable questions. To this end, a variety of cell-based modelling approaches have been developed to describe cell–cell mechanical interactions, ranging from vertex and ‘finite-element’ models that approximate each cell geometrically by a polygon representing the cell's membrane, to immersed boundary and subcellular element models that allow for more arbitrary cell shapes. Here, we review how these models have been used to provide insights into epithelial morphogenesis and describe how such models could help future efforts to decipher the forces and mechanical and biochemical feedbacks that guide cell and tissue-level behaviour. In addition, we discuss current challenges associated with using computational models of morphogenetic processes in a quantitative and predictive way.
This article is part of the themed issue ‘Systems morphodynamics: understanding the development of tissue hardware’.
One contribution of 13 to a theme issue ‘Systems morphodynamics: understanding the development of tissue hardware’.
- Accepted October 31, 2016.
- © 2017 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.