The mechanics of neutrophils: synthetic modeling of three experiments

Biophys J. 2003 May;84(5):3389-413. doi: 10.1016/s0006-3495(03)70062-9.


Much experimental data exist on the mechanical properties of neutrophils, but so far, they have mostly been approached within the framework of liquid droplet models. This has two main drawbacks: 1), It treats the cytoplasm as a single phase when in reality, it is a composite of cytosol and cytoskeleton; and 2), It does not address the problem of active neutrophil deformation and force generation. To fill these lacunae, we develop here a comprehensive continuum-mechanical paradigm of the neutrophil that includes proper treatment of the membrane, cytosol, and cytoskeleton components. We further introduce two models of active force production: a cytoskeletal swelling force and a polymerization force. Armed with these tools, we present computer simulations of three classic experiments: the passive aspiration of a neutrophil into a micropipette, the active extension of a pseudopod by a neutrophil exposed to a local stimulus, and the crawling of a neutrophil inside a micropipette toward a chemoattractant against a varying counterpressure. Principal results include: 1), Membrane cortical tension is a global property of the neutrophil that is affected by local area-increasing shape changes. We argue that there exists an area dilation viscosity caused by the work of unfurling membrane-storing wrinkles and that this viscosity is responsible for much of the regulation of neutrophil deformation. 2), If there is no swelling force of the cytoskeleton, then it must be endowed with a strong cohesive elasticity to prevent phase separation from the cytosol during vigorous suction into a capillary tube. 3), We find that both swelling and polymerization force models are able to provide a unifying fit to the experimental data for the three experiments. However, force production required in the polymerization model is beyond what is expected from a simple short-range Brownian ratchet model. 4), It appears that, in the crawling of neutrophils or other amoeboid cells inside a micropipette, measurement of velocity versus counterpressure curves could provide a determination of whether cytoskeleton-to-cytoskeleton interactions (such as swelling) or cytoskeleton-to-membrane interactions (such as polymerization force) are predominantly responsible for active protrusion.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Cell Membrane / physiology
  • Cell Movement / physiology*
  • Cell Size
  • Chemotaxis / physiology
  • Computer Simulation
  • Cytoskeleton / physiology
  • Cytosol / physiology
  • Elasticity
  • Hemorheology / methods*
  • Mechanotransduction, Cellular / physiology*
  • Models, Cardiovascular*
  • Neutrophil Activation / physiology*
  • Neutrophils / cytology
  • Neutrophils / physiology*
  • Pressure
  • Stress, Mechanical
  • Vacuum