Cell motility modes are selected by the interplay of mechanosensitive adhesion and membrane tension

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The initiation of directional cell motion requires symmetry breaking that can happen both with or without external stimuli. During cell crawling, forces generated by the cytoskeleton and their transmission through mechanosensitive adhesions to the extracellular substrate play a crucial role. In a recently proposed 1D model (Sens, PNAS 2020), a mechanical feedback loop between force-sensitive adhesions and cell tension was shown to be sufficient to explain spontaneous symmetry breaking and multiple motility patterns through stick-slip dynamics, without the need to account for signaling networks or active polar gels. We extended this model to 2D to study the interplay between cell shape and mechanics during crawling. Through a local force balance along a deformable boundary, we show that the membrane tension coupled with shape change can regulate the spatiotemporal evolution of the stochastic binding of mechanosensitive adhesions. Linear stability analysis identified the unstable parameter regimes where spontaneous symmetry breaking can take place. Using simulations to solve the fully coupled nonlinear system of equations, we show that starting from a randomly perturbed circular shape, this instability can lead to keratocyte-like shapes. Simulations predict that different adhesion kinetics and membrane tension can result in different cell motility modes including gliding, zigzag, rotating, and sometimes chaotic movements. Thus, using a minimal model of cell motility, we identify that the interplay between adhesions and tension can select emergent motility modes.

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