Quantification of nematic cell polarity in three-dimensional tissues

Research output: Contribution to journalResearch articleContributedpeer-review



How epithelial cells coordinate their polarity to form functional tissues is an open question in cell biology. Here, we characterize a unique type of polarity found in liver tissue, nematic cell polarity, which is different from vectorial cell polarity in simple, sheet-like epithelia. We propose a conceptual and algorithmic framework to characterize complex patterns of polarity proteins on the surface of a cell in terms of a multipole expansion. To rigorously quantify previously observed tissue-level patterns of nematic cell polarity (Morales-Navarrete et al., eLife 2019), we introduce the concept of co-orientational order parameters, which generalize the known biaxial order parameters of the theory of liquid crystals. Applying these concepts to three-dimensional reconstructions of single cells from high-resolution imaging data of mouse liver tissue, we show that the axes of nematic cell polarity of hepatocytes exhibit local coordination and are aligned with the biaxially anisotropic sinusoidal network for blood transport. Our study characterizes liver tissue as a biological example of a biaxial liquid crystal. The general methodology developed here could be applied to other tissues and in-vitro organoids.


Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1008412
JournalPLoS Computational Biology
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 10 Dec 2020

External IDs

Scopus 85097647792
ORCID /0000-0001-9955-9012/work/142239117
ORCID /0000-0003-0137-5106/work/142244218



  • nematic cell polarity, three-dimensional tissues