Since the proposal of the differential adhesion hypothesis, scientists have been fascinated by how cell adhesion mediates cellular self-organization to form spatial patterns during development. The search for molecular tool kits with homophilic binding specificity resulted in a diverse repertoire of adhesion molecules. Recent understanding of the dominant role of cortical tension over adhesion binding redirects the focus of differential adhesion studies to the signaling function of adhesion proteins to regulate actomyosin contractility. The broader framework of differential interfacial tension encompasses both adhesion and nonadhesion molecules, sharing the common function of modulating interfacial tension during cell sorting to generate diverse tissue patterns. Robust adhesion-based patterning requires close coordination between morphogen signaling, cell fate decisions, and changes in adhesion. Current advances in bridging theoretical and experimental approaches present exciting opportunities to understand molecular, cellular, and tissue dynamics during adhesion-based tissue patterning across multiple time and length scales.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)349-374
Number of pages26
JournalAnnual Review of Cell and Developmental Biology
StatePublished - 2022


  • cell adhesion
  • cell sorting
  • developmental biology
  • interfacial tension
  • tissue patterning


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