The intrinsic genetic program of a cell is not sufficient to explain all of the cell’s activities. External mechanical stimuli are increasingly recognized as determinants of cell behavior. In the epithelial folding event that constitutes the beginning of gastrulation in Drosophila, the genetic program of the future mesoderm leads to the establishment of a contractile actomyosin network that triggers apical constriction of cells and thereby tissue folding. However, some cells do not constrict but instead stretch, even though they share the same genetic program as their constricting neighbors. We show here that tissue-wide interactions force these cells to expand even when an otherwise sufficient amount of apical, active actomyosin is present. Models based on contractile forces and linear stress–strain responses do not reproduce experimental observations, but simulations in which cells behave as ductile materials with nonlinear mechanical properties do. Our models show that this behavior is a general emergent property of actomyosin networks in a supracellular context, in accordance with our experimental observations of actin reorganization within stretching cells.

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