Self-organized morphogenesis of a human neural tube in vitro by geometric constraints
25 July 2021
Understanding how human embryos develop their shape is a fundamental question in physics of life with strong medical implications. However, it is challenging to study the dynamics of organ formation in humans. Animals differ from humans in key aspects, and in particular in the development of the nervous system. Conventional organoids are quantitatively unreproducible and exhibit highly variable morphology. Here we present a morphologically reproducible and scalable approach for studying human organogenesis in a dish, which is compatible with live imaging. We achieve this by precisely controlling cell fate pattern formation in 2D stem cell sheets, while allowing for self-organization of tissue shape in 3D. Upon triggering neural pattern formation, the initially flat stem cell sheet undergoes folding morphogenesis and self-organizes into a millimeter long anatomically accurate model of the neural tube, covered by epidermis. We find that neural and epidermal human tissues are necessary and sufficient for folding morphogenesis in the absence of mesoderm activity. Furthermore, we find that molecular inhibition of tissue contractility leads to defects similar to neural tube closure defects, consistent with in vivo studies. Finally, we discover that neural tube shape, including the number and location of hinge points, depends on neural tissue size. This suggests that neural tube morphology along the anterior posterior axis depends on neural plate geometry in addition to molecular gradients. Our approach provides a new path to study human organ morphogenesis in health and disease.