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Crowd control in epithelia

For an epithelial-cell layer to retain its structure and provide a protective barrier, it needs to maintain a balance between the number of cells dividing and the number dying. Buzz Baum and colleagues study this process in Drosophila tissues and demonstrate a direct link between physical forces in a tissue and the rates of cell loss. In regions of tissue that are overcrowded, some of the cells undergo a loss of cell-adhesive junctions and are squeezed out by neighbouring cells. This process of live-cell delamination buffers epithelial cells against variations in growth and contributes to normal tissue homeostasis. As a link between epithelial hyperplasia and cell invasion, it may have relevance to the early stages of cancer development. In a second paper, Jody Rosenblatt and colleagues study epithelial-cell monolayers and find that epithelia extrude live but not dying cells at sites of high strain. The extruded cells undergo cell death owing to loss of survival factors. Hence, extrusion could provide a tumour-suppressive mechanism that could be used to eliminate excess cells. In carcinomas with high levels of survival signalling pathways, extrusion may promote tumour-cell invasion.

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