Epithelial cells organize into various tissue architectures that largely maintain their structure throughout the life of an organism. For decades, the morphogenesis of epithelial tissues has fascinated scientists at the interface of cell, developmental, and molecular biology. Systems biology offers ways to combine knowledge from these disciplines by building integrative models that are quantitative and predictive. Can such models be useful for gaining a deeper understanding of epithelial morphogenesis? Here, we take inventory of some recurring themes in epithelial morphogenesis that systems approaches could strive to capture. Predictive understanding of morphogenesis at the systems level would prove especially valuable for diseases such as cancer, where epithelial tissue architecture is profoundly disrupted. WIREs Syst Biol Med 2012, 4:51–78. doi: 10.1002/wsbm.159

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