From molecular signal activation to locomotion: An integrated, multiscale analysis of cell motility on defined matrices

Amit Pathak, Sanjay Kumar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


The adhesion, mechanics, and motility of eukaryotic cells are highly sensitive to the ligand density and stiffness of the extracellular matrix (ECM). This relationship bears profound implications for stem cell engineering, tumor invasion and metastasis. Yet, our quantitative understanding of how ECM biophysical properties, mechanotransductive signals, and assembly of contractile and adhesive structures collude to control these cell behaviors remains extremely limited. Here we present a novel multiscale model of cell migration on ECMs of defined biophysical properties that integrates local activation of biochemical signals with adhesion and force generation at the cell-ECM interface. We capture the mechanosensitivity of individual cellular components by dynamically coupling ECM properties to the activation of Rho and Rac GTPases in specific portions of the cell with actomyosin contractility, cell-ECM adhesion bond formation and rupture, and process extension and retraction. We show that our framework is capable of recreating key experimentally-observed features of the relationship between cell migration and ECM biophysical properties. In particular, our model predicts for the first time recently reported transitions from filopodial to "stick-slip" to gliding motility on ECMs of increasing stiffness, previously observed dependences of migration speed on ECM stiffness and ligand density, and high-resolution measurements of mechanosensitive protrusion dynamics during cell motility we newly obtained for this study. It also relates the biphasic dependence of cell migration speed on ECM stiffness to the tendency of the cell to polarize. By enabling the investigation of experimentally-inaccessible microscale relationships between mechanotransductive signaling, adhesion, and motility, our model offers new insight into how these factors interact with one another to produce complex migration patterns across a variety of ECM conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere18423
JournalPloS one
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2011


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