Traction force microscopy of migrating normal and H-ras transformed 3T3 fibroblasts

Biophys J. 2001 Apr;80(4):1744-57. doi: 10.1016/s0006-3495(01)76145-0.


Mechanical interactions between cell and substrate are involved in vital cellular functions from migration to signal transduction. A newly developed technique, traction force microscopy, makes it possible to visualize the dynamic characteristics of mechanical forces exerted by fibroblasts, including the magnitude, direction, and shear. In the present study such analysis is applied to migrating normal and transformed 3T3 cells. For normal cells, the lamellipodium provides almost all the forces for forward locomotion. A zone of high shear separates the lamellipodium from the cell body, suggesting that they are mechanically distinct entities. Timing and distribution of tractions at the leading edge bear no apparent relationship to local protrusive activities. However, changes in the pattern of traction forces often precede changes in the direction of migration. These observations suggest a frontal towing mechanism for cell migration, where dynamic traction forces at the leading edge actively pull the cell body forward. For H-ras transformed cells, pockets of weak, transient traction scatter among small pseudopods and appear to act against one another. The shear pattern suggests multiple disorganized mechanical domains. The weak, poorly coordinated traction forces, coupled with weak cell-substrate adhesions, are likely responsible for the abnormal motile behavior of H-ras transformed cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • 3T3 Cells
  • Acrylic Resins / chemistry
  • Animals
  • Biophysical Phenomena
  • Biophysics
  • Cell Line, Transformed
  • Cell Movement
  • Genes, ras / genetics*
  • Mice
  • Microscopy / methods*
  • Microscopy, Atomic Force / methods*
  • Microscopy, Phase-Contrast
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary


  • Acrylic Resins
  • polyacrylamide gels