The stationary state of epithelia

Acta Biotheoretica 43 (4) (1995)
Abstract
A tissue is a geometrical, space-filling, random cellular network; it remains in this steady state while individual cells divide. Cell division is a local, elementary topological transformation which establishes statistical equilibrium of the structure. We describe the physical conditions to maintain stationary the epidermis (of mammals or of the cucumber), in spite of the fact that cells constantly divide and die. Specifically, we study the statistical equilibrium of the basal layer, a corrugated surface filled with cells, constituting a two-dimensional topological froth. Cells divide and detach from the basal layer, and these two topological transformations are responsible for the stationary state of the epidermis. The topological froth is capable of responding rapidly and locally to external constraints, and is a good illustration of the plasticity of random cellular networks.Statistical equilibrium is controlled by entropy, both as a measure of disorder and as information, and is characterized by observable relations between average cell shapes and sizes. The technique can be applied to any random cellular network in dynamical equilibrium. Mitosis as the dominating topological transformation and the fact that the distribution of cell shapes is very narrow are the only inputs specific to biology.
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