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The Gurdon Institute


2019 Xiong as prospectus

Fengzhu Xiong PhD, Wellcome Sir Henry Dale Fellow, Wellcome-Beit Prize Fellow (2019), Member of the Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience.

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Xiong lab website




Tissue morphogenesis by mechanics and cell dynamics

What forces drive tissue morphogenesis? Embryos are made of soft materials consisting of cells with limited mechanical capacities, yet they develop in a robust and coordinated manner and produce large-scale deformations (morphogenesis).

We are interested in the ways in which developing tissues produce and respond to mechanical forces in order to achieve the correct shape and pattern. This knowledge is useful for understanding complex birth defects and engineering stem or reprogrammed cells into tissues, as well as interpreting the changes in diseased tissues such as tumours.

We use early avian embryos as a model system. The large size and accessibility of these embryos allow us to image cell and tissue dynamics, perform molecular genetic perturbations, and deploy novel mechanical tools such as soft gels and cantilevers to measure and apply forces. By integrating cell and tissue dynamics, we found that the paraxial mesoderm and axial tissues coordinate their elongation through mechanical feedback.

We are currently investigating if the identified forces are also important for the straightness (bilateral symmetry) of the tissues and the folding of the neural tube.

Selected publications

  • Kunz D, Wang A, Chan CU, Pritchard RH, Wang W, Gallo F, Bradshaw CR, Terenzani E, Muller KH, Huang YYS, Xiong F. Downregulation of Extraembryonic Tension Controls Body Axis Formation in Avian Embryos. BioRxiv doi:10.1101/2021.02.24.432525.

  • Moon LD, Xiong F (2021) Mechanics of Neural Tube Morphogenesis. Seminars in Cell and Developmental Biology

  • Xiong F, Ma W, Benazeraf B, Mahadevan L, Pourquie O. Mechanical Coupling Coordinates the Co-elongation of Axial and Paraxial Tissues in Avian Embryos. Developmental Cell 55:354–66.

  • Oginuma M, Harima Y, Tarazona OA, Diaz-Cuadros M, Michaut A, Ishitani T, Xiong F & Pourquié O (2020) Intracellular pH controls WNT downstream of glycolysis in amniote embryos. Nature 584:98–101. 

  • Xiong F, Ma W, Hiscock TW, Mosaliganti KR, Tentner AR, Brakke KA, Rannou N, Gelas A, Souhait L, Swinburne IA, Obholzer ND, Megason SG (2014) Interplay of Cell Shape and Division Orientation Promotes Robust Morphogenesis of Developing Epithelia. Cell 159:415–427.

  • Xiong F, Tentner AR, Huang P, Gelas A, Mosaliganti KR, Souhait L, Rannou N, Swinburne IA, Obholzer ND, Cowgill PD, Schier AF, Megason SG (2013). Specified Neural Progenitors Sort to Form Sharp Domains After Noisy Shh Signaling. Cell 153:550–561.


Ana Hernandez Rodrigues • Daniele Kunz • Yisha Lan • Changqing Lu • Susie McLaren • Lauren Moon • Anfu Wang • Oscar Baldwin • David Ding