On the coupling of mechanics with bioelectricity and its role in morphogenesis

Alessandro Leronni, Lorenzo Bardella

Department of Civil, Environmental, Architectural Engineering and Mathematics, University of Brescia, Via Branze 43, 25123 Brescia, Italy

Luis Dorfmann

Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Department of Biomedical Engineering, Tufts University, 02155 Medford MA, USA

Alexis Pietak, Michael Levin

Allen Discovery Center, Tufts University, 02155 Medford MA, USA


The role of endogenous bioelectricity in morphogenesis has recently been explored through the finite volume based code BioElectric Tissue Simulation Engine. We extend this platform to electrostatic and osmotic forces due to bioelectrical ion fluxes, causing cell cluster deformation. We further account for mechanosensitive ion channels, which, gated by membrane tension, modulate ion fluxes and, ultimately, bioelectrical forces. We illustrate the potentialities of this combined model of actuation and sensing with reference to cancer progression, osmoregulation, symmetry breaking, and long-range signaling. This suggests control strategies for the manipulation of cell networks in vivo.

Author Keywords: Bioelectricity; Osmotic stress; Electrostatic stress; Mechanical stress; Mechanosensitive ion channels; morphogenesis.