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Christian Dahmann Group

Signals and mechanics in epithelial morphogenesis

Portrait Christian Dahmann

© Kirsten Lassig

The general interest of our group is to understand the mechanisms by which cells collectively organize to form complex patterns and morphologies in developing tissues. How do mechanical processes like cell adhesion and force generation influence tissue organization? And how are these mechanical processes linked to the chemical signals that orchestrate tissue development? We address these questions by combining genetics with live imaging, quantitative image analysis and biophysical approaches using the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as a model organism. In addition, in collaboration with physicists and mathematicians, we develop mechanical models of epithelial morphogenesis.

Cell sorting

The sorting out of cells with different identities and fates during animal development is an important process to organize functional tissues and organs. We have previously shown that the sorting of cells at the boundary between anterior and posterior compartments of the developing Drosophila wing is controlled by a transcriptional response to the Hedgehog signaling molecule. Recent physical approaches, including the ablation of bonds between cells using laser light, have revealed that mechanical tension on cell bonds is elevated along this anterior-posterior compartment boundary. Computer simulations, performed in collaboration with the group of Frank Jülicher at the MPI-PKS, show that a local increase of cell bond tension suffices to maintain straight interfaces between compartments. Our results suggest a sorting mechanism by which an increased cell bond tension guides the rearrangement of cells after cell division to maintain straight and sharp compartment boundaries.

Tissue shaping

Epithelial tissues undergo profound changes in shape during animal development. We have recently shown that signaling by BMP, once thought to maintain cell survival, helps to control epithelial cell shape and organization in the developing Drosophila wing. We are currently investigating how the BMP signaling pathway influences the mechanical properties of cells to guide changes in cell and tissue shape.

Christian Dahmann Research: Figure
Fig.: A) A transgenic Drosophila fly expressing GFP in cells of the posterior compartments. Note the straight borders between GFP expressing and non-expressing cells, which coincide with compartment boundaries. B) Laser ablation of single cell bonds reveals mechanical tension. C) Image segmentation to follow cell lineages during tissue growth.

Future Projects and Goals

  • Identifying the molecular pathway leading from the Hedgehog signal to increased mechanical tension
  • Investigating the dynamics of cell sorting at compartment boundaries by real-time in vivo imaging
  • Analyzing tissue-scale mechanical properties of the wing epithelium during development
  • Reconstructing the developing wing epithelium at cellular resolution in three dimensions

Methodological and Technical Expertise

  • Drosophila genetics
  • Live imaging
  • Laser ablation
  • Quantitative image analysis


since 2013
Professor of Systems Biology and Genetics at the Institute of Genetics, Technische Universität Dresden

Group Leader at the Institute of Genetics, Technische Universität Dresden

Group Leader at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics

Postdoctoral work at the University of Zürich

PhD at the University of Vienna

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Selected Publications

Aurich, F. and Dahmann, C.
A mutation in fat2 uncouples tissue elongation from global tissue rotation
Cell Reports 14, 2503–2510 (2016)

Umetsu, D., Aigouy, B., Aliee, M., Sui, L., Eaton, S., Jülicher, F., and Dahmann, C.
Local increases in mechanical tension shape compartment boundaries by biasing cell intercalations.
Current Biology, 24, 967–976 (2014)

Viktorinova, I. and Dahmann, C.
Microtubule polarity predicts direction of egg chamber rotation in Drosophila.
Current Biology 23, 1472–1477 (2013)

Aliee, M., Röper, J. C., Landsberg, K. P., Pentzold, C., Widmann, T. J., Jülicher, F., and Dahmann, C.
Physical mechanisms shaping the Drosophila dorsoventral compartment boundary.
Current Biology, 22, 967–976 (2012)

Dahmann, C., Oates, A. C., and Brand, M.
Boundary formation and maintenance in tissue development.
Nature Reviews Genetics, 12, 43–55 (2011)


Institute for Genetics
TU Dresden
Zellescher Weg 20b
01062 Dresden