Pulsed actomyosin contractions in morphogenesis

Cell and tissue shape changes are the fundamental elements of morphogenesis that drive normal development of embryos into fully functional organisms. This requires a variety of cellular processes including establishment and maintenance of polarity, tissue growth and apoptosis, and cell differentiation, rearrangement, and migration. It is widely appreciated that the cytoskeletal networks play an important role in regulating many of these processes and, in particular, that pulsed actomyosin contractions are a core cellular mechanism driving cell shape changes and cell rearrangement. In this review, we discuss the role of pulsed actomyosin contractions during developmental morphogenesis, advances in our understanding of the mechanisms regulating actomyosin pulsing, and novel techniques to probe the role of pulsed actomyosin processes in in vivo model systems.