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Actively regulated symmetry breaking, which is ubiquitous in biological cells, underlies phenomena such as directed cellular movement and morphological polarization. Here, we investigate how an organ-level polarity pattern emerges through symmetry breaking at the cellular level during the formation of a mechanosensory organ. Combining theory, genetic perturbations and in vivo imaging, we study the development and regeneration of the fluid-motion sensors in the zebrafish’s lateral line. We find that two interacting symmetry-breaking events—one mediated by biochemical signalling and the other by cellular mechanics—give rise to precise rotations of cell pairs, which produce a mirror-symmetric polarity pattern in the receptor organ.
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