Oriented cell division is a key regulator of tissue architecture and crucial for morphogenesis and homeostasis. Balanced regulation of proliferation and differentiation is an essential property of tissues not only to drive morphogenesis but also to maintain and restore homeostasis. In many tissues orientation of cell division is coupled to the regulation of differentiation producing daughters with similar (symmetric cell division, SCD) or differential fate (asymmetric cell division, ACD). This allows the organism to generate cell lineage diversity from a small pool of stem and progenitor cells. Division orientation and/or the ratio of ACD/SCD need to be tightly controlled. Loss of orientation or an altered ratio can promote overgrowth, alter tissue architecture and induce aberrant differentiation, and have been linked to morphogenetic diseases, cancer and aging. A key requirement for oriented division is the presence of a polarity axis, which can be established through cell intrinsic and/or extrinsic signals. Polarity proteins translate such internal and external cues to drive polarization. In this review we will focus on the role of the polarity complex aPKC/Par3/Par6 in the regulation of division orientation and cell fate in different mammalian epithelia. We will compare the conserved function of this complex in mitotic spindle orientation and distribution of cell fate determinants and highlight common and differential mechanisms in which this complex is used by tissues to adapt division orientation and cell fate to the specific properties of the epithelium.
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