PerspectiveDevelopmental Biology

Tubular Transformations

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Science  15 Jul 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6040, pp. 294-295
DOI: 10.1126/science.1209687

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Tubes constructed from single-layered sheets of epithelial cells (which line body surfaces and cavities) provide the structural basis for many internal organs (1). These tubes assume diverse forms, from the 25-foot-long, highly coiled intestine, to the elaborate branched networks of the lung and kidney. Even the brain and heart arise from simple epithelial tubes. Each tube must attain the precise length and diameter required for its physiological function, and creating tubes that bend, coil, branch, or twist requires additional regulatory mechanisms or modes of cellular force production. A major challenge for developmental biologists studying organ formation in the embryo, and for tissue engineers who aspire to build organs in the lab, is to understand how the molecular-level control of subcellular forces leads to tissue-level control of epithelial tube size and shape. Two papers in this issue, by Tang et al. (2) on page 342 and by Taniguchi et al. (3) on page 339, address this challenge. They provide new insight into the cellular processes that make the right tube to fit the job.