Geometric determinants of directional cell motility revealed using microcontact printing

Langmuir. 2003 Mar 4;19(5):1611-7. doi: 10.1021/la026394k.


Mammalian cells redirect their movement in response to changes in the physical properties of their extracellular matrix (ECM) adhesive scaffolds, including changes in available substrate area, shape, or flexibility. Yet, little is known about the cell's ability to discriminate between different types of spatial signals. Here we utilize a soft-lithography-based, microcontact printing technology in combination with automated computerized image analysis to explore the relationship between ECM geometry and directional motility. When fibroblast cells were cultured on fibronectin-coated adhesive islands with the same area (900 micrometers2) but different geometric forms (square, triangle, pentagon, hexagon, trapezoid, various parallelograms) and aspect ratios, cells preferentially extended new lamellipodia from their corners. In addition, by imposing these simple geometric constraints through ECM, cells were directed to deposit new fibronectin fibrils in these same corner regions. These data indicate that mammalian cells can sense edges within ECM patterns that exhibit a wide range of angularity and that they use these spatial cues to guide where they will deposit ECM and extend new motile processes during the process of directional migration.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Adhesion
  • Cell Movement / physiology*
  • Cell Size
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Extracellular Matrix / physiology
  • Extracellular Matrix / ultrastructure*
  • Fibroblasts / physiology*
  • Fibroblasts / ultrastructure
  • Fibronectins / physiology*
  • Focal Adhesions / physiology
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted*
  • Mice
  • NIH 3T3 Cells
  • Pseudopodia / physiology*


  • Fibronectins