Cell shape is critical to cell function, and cells need to reliably change or maintain shape as circumstances demand. The Sokac Lab is studying cell shape change in the context of developing fruit fly embryos. We are pushing beyond the standard picture that F-actin is just a structural component that gives cells their shape.  In our working model, we suggest that actin-based mechanisms also contribute to the systems-level properties of cell shape change by coordinating events, setting kinetic parameters, and promoting robustness against internal and environmental perturbations.  

To test our model, we are asking several specific questions:

  • How are different sub-cellular processes, from nucleus to cell surface, integrated to accomplish cell shape change?
  • Where do the materials for cell surface expansion come from (e.g. actin, membrane), and how are they moved around and regulated?
  • How do mechanics link and coordinate remote cell surface events during cell shape change and tissue morphogenesis?
  • What determines the dynamics of cell shape change?
  • What robustness promoting mechanisms ensure reliable cell shape change, even under stressful conditions?

We pursue this work because we are fascinated by how cells move and do their jobs.  Since failed cell shape change precipitates disease and devastating health burdens, as in cancer and birth defects, our efforts can aid in the development of future clinical interventions.