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Coupling of cytoplasm and adhesion dynamics determines cell polarization and locomotion

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Abstract:

Observations of single epidermal cells on flat adhesive substrates have revealed two distinct morphological and functional states, namely a non-migrating symmetric unpolarized state and a migrating asymmetric polarized state. These states are characterized by different spatial distributions and dynamics of important biochemical cell components: F-actin and myosin-II form the contractile part of the cytoskeleton, and integrin receptors in the plasma membrane connect F-actin filaments to the substratum. In this way, focal adhesion complexes are assembled, which determine cytoskeletal force transduction and subsequent cell locomotion. So far, physical models have reduced this phenomenon either to gradients in regulatory control molecules or to different mechanics of the actin filament system in different regions of the cell. Here we offer an alternative and self-organizational model incorporating polymerization, pushing and sliding of filaments, as well as formation of adhesion sites and their force dependent kinetics. All these phenomena can be combined into a non-linearly coupled system of hyperbolic, parabolic and elliptic differential equations. Aim of this article is to show how relatively simple relations for the small-scale mechanics and kinetics of participating molecules may reproduce the emergent behavior of polarization and migration on the large-scale cell level.

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