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Cortex-driven cytoplasmic flows in elongated cells: fluid mechanics and application to nuclear transport in Drosophila embryos

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The Drosophila melanogaster embryo, an elongated multi-nucleated cell, is a classical model system for eukaryotic development and morphogenesis. Recent work has shown that bulk cytoplasmic flows, driven by cortical contractions along the walls of the embryo, enable the uniform spreading of nuclei along the anterior–posterior axis necessary for proper embryonic development. Here, we propose two mathematical models to characterize cytoplasmic flows driven by tangential cortical contractions in elongated cells. Assuming Newtonian fluid flow at low Reynolds number in a spheroidal cell, we first compute the flow field exactly, thereby bypassing the need for numerical computations. We then apply our results to recent experiments on nuclear transport in cell cycles 4–6 of Drosophila embryo development. By fitting the cortical contractions in our model to measurements, we reveal that experimental cortical flows enable near-optimal axial spreading of nuclei. A second mathematical approach, applicable to general elongated cell geometries, exploits a long-wavelength approximation to produce an even simpler solution, with errors below 5% compared with the full model. An application of this long-wavelength result to transport leads to fully analytical solutions for the nuclear concentration that capture the essential physics of the system, including optimal axial spreading of nuclei.


Peer reviewed: True

Publication status: Published


cytoplasmic streaming, intracellular flows, fluid dynamics, Drosophila, biological transport

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Journal of the Royal Society Interface

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The Royal Society
Cambridge Trust (10627015)