Proteolysis-free cell migration through crowded environments via mechanical worrying

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Migratory cells often encounter crowded microenvironments through which they must find or make a path. Amoeboid cells are thought to find a path by deforming their bodies to squeeze through tight spaces. Yet many amoeboid cells seem to maintain a near spherical morphology as they move. To examine this unexplored mechanism of migration, we visualized amoeboid melanoma cells in dense environments and found that they carve a path via bleb-driven mechanical degradation of extracellular matrix components without proteolytic degradation. Interactions between adhesions and collagen at the cell front induce a signaling cascade that promotes bleb enlargement via branched actin polymerization. Large blebs abrade collagen, creating feedback between extracellular matrix structure, cell morphology and polarization that enables both path generation and persistent movement.

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  1. Excerpt

    “Worry” your way out: Driscoll and colleagues characterize a bleb-based mode of cell migration featuring repetitive agitation of the extracellular matrix.