Computational modelling of cell motility modes emerging from cell-matrix adhesion dynamics

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Lymphocytes have been described to perform different motility patterns such as Brownian random walks, persistent random walks, and Lévy walks. Depending on the conditions, such as confinement or the distribution of target cells, either Brownian or Lévy walks lead to more efficient interaction with the targets. The diversity of these motility patterns may be explained by an adaptive response to the surrounding extracellular matrix (ECM). Indeed, depending on the ECM composition, lymphocytes either display a floating motion without attaching to the ECM, or sliding and stepping motion with respectively continuous or discontinuous attachment to the ECM, or pivoting behaviour with sustained attachment to the ECM. Moreover, on the long term, lymphocytes either perform a persistent random walk or a Brownian-like movement depending on the ECM composition. How the ECM affects cell motility is still incompletely understood. Here, we integrate essential mechanistic details of the lymphocyte-matrix adhesions and lymphocyte intrinsic cytoskeletal induced cell propulsion into a Cellular Potts model (CPM). We show that the combination of de novo cell-matrix adhesion formation, adhesion growth and shrinkage, adhesion rupture, and feedback of adhesions onto cell propulsion recapitulates multiple lymphocyte behaviours, for different lymphocyte subsets and various substrates. With an increasing attachment area and increased adhesion strength, the cells’ speed and persistence decreases. Additionally, the model can predict short-term persistent with long-term subdiffusive motility, showing a pivoting motion. For small adhesion areas, we observe that the spatial distribution of adhesions influences cell motility. Small adhesions at the front allow for more persistent motion than larger clusters at the back, despite a similar total adhesion area. In conclusion, we present an integrated framework to simulate the effects of ECM proteins on cell-matrix adhesion dynamics. The model reveals a sufficient set of principles explaining the plasticity of lymphocyte motility.

Author summary

During immunosurveillance, lymphocytes patrol through tissues to interact with cancer cells, other immune cells, and pathogens. The efficiency of this process depends on the kinds of trajectories taken, ranging from simple Brownian walks to Lévy walks. The composition of the extracellular matrix (ECM), a network of macromolecules, affects the formation of cell-matrix adhesions, thus strongly influencing the way lymphocytes move. Here, we present a model of lymphocyte motility driven by adhesions that grow, shrink and rupture in response to the ECM and cellular forces. Compared to other models, our model is computationally light making it suitable for generating long term cell track data, while still capturing actin dynamics and adhesion turnover. Our model suggests that cell motility is affected by the force required to break adhesions and the rate at which new adhesions form. Adhesions can promote cell protrusion by inhibiting retrograde actin flow. After introducing this effect into the model, we found that it reduces the cellular diffusivity and that it promotes stick-slip behaviour. Furthermore, location and size of adhesion clusters determined cell persistence. Overall, our model explains the plasticity of lymphocyte behaviour in response to the ECM.

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