Local actin dynamics couple speed and persistence in a cellular Potts model of cell migration

Inge M.N. Wortel*, Ioana Niculescu, P. Martijn Kolijn, Nir S. Gov, Rob J. de Boer, Johannes Textor

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Cell migration is astoundingly diverse. Molecular signatures, cell-cell interactions, and environmental structures each play their part in shaping cell motion, yielding numerous morphologies and migration modes. Nevertheless, in recent years, a simple unifying law was found to describe cell migration across many different cell types and contexts: faster cells turn less frequently. This universal coupling between speed and persistence (UCSP) was explained by retrograde actin flow from front to back, but it remains unclear how this mechanism generalizes to cells with complex shapes and cells migrating in structured environments, which may not have a well-defined front-to-back orientation. Here, we present an in-depth characterization of an existing cellular Potts model, in which cells polarize dynamically from a combination of local actin dynamics (stimulating protrusions) and global membrane tension along the perimeter (inhibiting protrusions). We first show that the UCSP emerges spontaneously in this model through a cross talk of intracellular mechanisms, cell shape, and environmental constraints, resembling the dynamic nature of cell migration in vivo. Importantly, we find that local protrusion dynamics suffice to reproduce the UCSP—even in cases in which no clear global, front-to-back polarity exists. We then harness the spatial nature of the cellular Potts model to show how cell shape dynamics limit both the speed and persistence a cell can reach and how a rigid environment such as the skin can restrict cell motility even further. Our results broaden the range of potential mechanisms underlying the speed-persistence coupling that has emerged as a fundamental property of migrating cells.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2609-2622
Number of pages14
JournalBiophysical Journal
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jul 2021


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