Cell Navigation: New Study Reveals How Surface Shape Guides Movement

Imagine tiny travelers within your body, constantly on the move. These travelers, immune cells and in some cases cancer cells, navigate a complex landscape of curved surfaces. A new study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, sheds light on how the curvature of these surfaces plays a crucial role in directing cell migration.

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization (MPI-DS) and the Weizmann Institute of Science have discovered a fundamental principle: cells preferentially move along valleys and grooves, while avoiding ridges. This phenomenon, akin to a form of "chemotaxis" but based on surface shape rather than chemicals, could have significant implications for understanding immune response and cancer metastasis.

"Cell migration is a fundamental process throughout the body," explains Dr. Eberhard Bodenschatz, director at MPI-DS. "Our immune system relies on cells patrolling for pathogens, and cancer progression involves cells migrating and spreading the disease."  These migrations often occur on curved surfaces like tissues, blood vessels, and cellular protrusions.

The research team demonstrated that these curvatures directly influence how cells move. Using a computer model that mimicked a biological cell with its internal machinery for movement, they observed how the model cell displayed specific migration patterns on various curved surfaces.

"We saw the model cell preferentially moving along grooves and avoiding ridges," reports Dr. Nir Gov from the Weizmann Institute.  "This behavior was then confirmed experimentally with real cells, revealing a universal mechanism for cell motility across different cell types."

The study suggests that on convex surfaces, like the outer wall of a blood vessel, cells tend to move circumferentially. Conversely, on concave surfaces, like the inside of a blood vessel, cells favor movement along the long axis.

"This discovery highlights how basic physical principles can govern complex biological phenomena," concludes Dr. Bodenschatz.  "A deeper understanding of these guiding forces paves the way for advancements in areas like immune response and potentially even novel cancer treatment strategies."

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