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What specifies the size of animal cells ?


The size of a cell is a fingerprint of its identity. Size differences discriminate cell types, physiological conditions and pathologies. 


What are the mechanisms that give each of the cell types in our body its unique and specific size? Earlier studies have discovered many biochemical signals that promote growth of cell size. A favorite example is the protein complex, mTORC1. The question, nevertheless, remains: how can a common set of pathways, including mTOR, specify a different size for each of the different cell types? 


In contrast to the dramatic size differences that discriminate cell types, cells of a given cell type are very uniform in size. In typical epithelia, size differences between neighboring cells are sometimes negligible (see examples): numerous individual cells in the tissue are somehow regulated to have the same specific size. This suggests a regulation that specifies the same common target size for the numerous individual cells in the tissue. The mechanism and details of this regulation have yet to be discovered.


In cancer, the situation is often quite different. In pleomorphic cancers, for example, instead of uniformity there is an almost chaotic variability of cell size. This contrast between healthy tissues and pleomorphic cancers suggests that mechanisms that regulate uniformity of cell size are corrupt in certain cancers. 


Our lab uses single cell measurements and various analytic approaches to investigate this fundamental question.  


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