New Tissue Shaped with Light

Construc­ting biolo­gical tissues, such as skin, muscle, or bone, in customized shapes is now one step closer. Researchers at EMBL have succeeded in guiding the folding and thus shape of tissues with opto­genetics: a technique to control protein activity with light with impli­cations for rege­nerative medicine. The changing of tissue shapes in an embryo is essential for healthy development. Stefano De Renzis and his group members are interested in the morpho­genesis behind these shape transi­tions. They use opto­genetics – a technique providing precise light-mediated control of protein acti­vity – to study changes in tissue shapes.

Three examples of the tissue shapes the team created. The black and white square, circle and triangle on the left correspond to the cells that were illuminated. On the right, three fruit fly embryos are shown in cyan, magenta and yellow, demonstrating how the illuminated cells folded inwards after the light-activation. (Source: S. De Renzis, EMBL)

Emiliano Izquierdo, Theresa Quinkler, and Stefano De Renzis used opto­genetics to reconstruct epi­thelial folding: a funda­mental process during develop­ment, where cells move inwards and fold into the embryo, eventually giving rise to internal tissues like muscles, for example. Remarkably, they achieved this in cells that normally do not undergo this process. De Renzis, who led the study: “We’ve uncoupled the link between the shape and function of a cell. This allows us to, for the first time, built tissues in certain shape without affecting the cell’s expertise.”

“The great thing about using opto­genetics to guide morpho­genesis is that it is a very precise technique”, says Emiliano Izquierdo. “We were able to define various shapes, and by alter­nating the timing and strength of illumi­nation, we could control how far the cells folded inwards.” The research was done in deve­loping fruit flies, but since epithe­lial folding is a conserved process across evo­lution, De Renzis expects these methods to also be appli­cable in other organisms and ex vivo stem cell culture systems. In that case, opto­genetics could be an ideal technique for recon­structing and directing tissue develop­ment, which could be used to (re)build arti­ficial tissues in rege­nerative medicine. (Source: EMBL)

Reference: E. Izquierdo et al.: Guided morphogenesis through optogenetic activation of Rho signalling during early Drosophila embryogenesis, Nat. Commun. 9, 2366 (2018); DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-04754-z

Link: Cell Biology and Biophysics (S. De Renzis), EMBL Heidelberg, Heidelberg, Germany

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