Symmetry-Breaking Cilia-Driven Flow in Embryogenesis

  • Smith D
  • Montenegro-Johnson T
  • Lopes S
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The systematic breaking of left–right body symmetry is a familiar feature of human physiology. In humans and many animals, this process originates with asymmetric fluid flow driven by rotating cilia, occurring in a short-lived embryonic organizing structure termed the node. The very low–Reynolds number fluid mechanics of this system is reviewed; important features include how cilia rotation combines with tilt to produce asymmetric flow, boundary effects, time dependence, and the interpretation of particle tracking experiments. The effect of perturbing cilia length and number is discussed and compared in mouse and zebrafish. Whereas understanding of this process has advanced significantly over the past two decades, there is still no consensus on how flow is converted to asymmetric gene expression, with most research focusing on resolving mechanical versus morphogen sensing. The underlying process may be more subtle, probably involving a combination of these effects, with fluid mechanics playing a central role.




Smith, D. J., Montenegro-Johnson, T. D., & Lopes, S. S. (2019). Symmetry-Breaking Cilia-Driven Flow in Embryogenesis. Annual Review of Fluid Mechanics, 51(1), 105–128.

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