Geometric signatures of tissue surface tension in a three-dimensional model of confluent tissue

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4 Scopus citations


In dense biological tissues, cell types performing different roles remain segregated by maintaining sharp interfaces. To better understand the mechanisms for such sharp compartmentalization, we study the effect of an imposed heterotypic tension at the interface between two distinct cell types in a fully 3D Voronoi model for confluent tissues. We find that cells rapidly sort and self-organize to generate a tissue-scale interface between cell types, and cells adjacent to this interface exhibit signature geometric features including nematic-like ordering, bimodal facet areas, and registration, or alignment, of cell centers on either side of the two-tissue interface. The magnitude of these features scales directly with the magnitude of the imposed tension, suggesting that biologists can estimate the magnitude of tissue surface tension between two tissue types simply by segmenting a 3D tissue. To uncover the underlying physical mechanisms driving these geometric features, we develop two minimal, ordered models using two different underlying lattices that identify an energetic competition between bulk cell shapes and tissue interface area. When the interface area dominates, changes to neighbor topology are costly and occur less frequently, which generates the observed geometric features.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number093043
JournalNew Journal of Physics
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2021


  • 3D Voronoi model
  • biological tissues
  • cell sorting
  • demixing
  • heterotypic tension
  • topological pinning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Physics and Astronomy


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