Physical modeling of cell geometric order in an epithelial tissue

Sascha Hilgenfeldt, Sinem Erisken, Richard W. Carthew

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In multicellular organisms, cells pack together to form tissues of intricate and well defined morphology. How such cell-packing geometries arise is an important open question in biology, because the functionality of many differentiated tissues depends on their reliable formation. We show that combining adhesive forces due to E- and N-cadherin with a quantitative description of cell membrane elasticity in an interfacial energy model explains not only the qualitative neighbor relations, but also the detailed geometry of a tissue. The characteristic cellular geometries in the eyes of both wild-type Drosophila and genetic mutants are accurately reproduced by using a fixed set of few, physically motivated parameters. The model predicts adhesion strengths in the eye epithelium, quantifies their role relative to membrane elasticity, and reveals how simple minimization of interfacial energy can give rise to complex geometric patterns of important biological functionality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)907-911
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 22 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Cadherin
  • Drosophila
  • Interfacial energy
  • Morphogenesis
  • Surface evolver

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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