Boston, MA The physical forces that guide how cells migratehow they manage to get from place to place in a coordinated fashion inside the living body are poorly understood. Scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC) have, for the first time, devised a way to measure these forces during collective cellular migration. Their surprising conclusion is that the cells fight it out, each pushing and pulling on its neighbors in a chaotic dance, yet together moving cooperatively toward their intended direction.
The study appears May 22, 2011, in an advance online edition of Nature Materials.
Until now it was known that cells could follow gradients of soluble chemical cues, called morphogens, which help to direct tissue development, or they could follow physical cues, such as adhesion to their surroundings. Fundamental studies of these and other mechanisms of cellular migration have focused on dissecting cell behavior into ever smaller increments, trying to get to the molecular roots of how migration occurs. In contrast, the HSPH team worked at a higher levelthe group leveland focused upon the forces that cells exert upon their immediate neighbors, to begin to resolve the riddle of collective cellular migration.
Collective cellular migrations are necessary for multicellular life; for example, in order for cells to form the embryo, cells must move collectively. Or in the healing of a wound, cells must migrate collectively to fill the wound gap. But the migration process is also dangerous in situations such as cancer, when malignant cells, or clumps of cells, can migrate to distant sites to invade other tissues or form new tumors. Understanding how and why collective cellular migration happens may lead to ways to control or interrupt diseases that involve abnormal cell migration.
The laboratories of Jeffrey Fredberg, professor of bioengineering and physiology
|Contact: Todd Datz|
Harvard School of Public Health