The Mechanics of Cell Migration

Cells move by forces associated with the assembly of an actin polymer network which are balanced by adhesive coupling of the polymer to the extracellular domain and counteracted by polymer contraction powered by molecular motors. The forces are orchestrated in space and time by fine-tuned feedback signals that process the mechanical and chemical states of the cell. Our goal is to decipher the largely unknown design principles and modes of operation of this complex molecular system; first by reconstructing the spatiotemporal distribution of intracellular forces using inverse dynamics; and then by perturbation of specific signals in order to determine the input-output relationships between signals and forces.

This presentation will describe a computational framework to extract from live cell fluorescence images rates of actin polymer network assembly, deformation, elastic properties, and polymer-adhesion coupling and to correlate subcellular heterogeneity in these parameters to the migration activity of the cell. It will emphasize mathematical developments within this framework that have provided critical insights into the migration mechanics not accessible by cell biological experimentation alone.

Gaudenz Danuser, The Scripps Research Institute

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