Skip to main page content
Access keys NCBI Homepage MyNCBI Homepage Main Content Main Navigation
, 3 (5), 303-17

The Forces Behind Cell Movement


The Forces Behind Cell Movement

Revathi Ananthakrishnan et al. Int J Biol Sci.


Cell movement is a complex phenomenon primarily driven by the actin network beneath the cell membrane, and can be divided into three general components: protrusion of the leading edge of the cell, adhesion of the leading edge and deadhesion at the cell body and rear, and cytoskeletal contraction to pull the cell forward. Each of these steps is driven by physical forces generated by unique segments of the cytoskeleton. This review examines the specific physics underlying these phases of cell movement and the origins of the forces that drive locomotion.

Conflict of interest statement

Conflict of interest: The authors have declared that no conflict of interest exists.


Figure 1
Figure 1
A schematic of the three stages of cell movement, based on ,: after determining its direction of motion, the cell extends a protusion in this direction by actin polymerization at the leading edge. It then adheres its leading edge to the surface on which it is moving and de-adheres at the cell body and rear. Finally, it pulls the whole cell body forward by contracile forces generated at the cell body and rear of the cell.
Figure 2
Figure 2
A schematic (based on a figure in showing how the cell adheres to the substrate. Cell-substrate attachments are formed when actin bundles connect to the substrate at certain sites via adhesion molecules such as vinculin, talin and integrin.
Figure 3
Figure 3
A schematic depicting two phenomena that can cause retrograde actin flow in vivo, based on . Retrograde flow is postulated to occur either due to release of the molecular clutch and resultant slippage, as seen in Figure a) (where the yellow and green parts of the clutch do not fit), or due to adhesion raking as shown in Figure b) (where the clutch is engaged (yellow and green parts fit) but there is raking of the cytoskeleton against the substrate (blue and white parts)).

Similar articles

See all similar articles

Cited by 85 articles

See all "Cited by" articles


    1. Alberts B, Johnson A, Lewis J Molecular Biology of the Cell, 4e. Garland Science. 2002.
    1. Dogterom M, Yurke B. Measurement of the force-velocity relation for growing microtubules. Science. 1997;278(5339):856–60. - PubMed
    1. Block SM, Asbury CL, Shaevitz JW et al. Probing the kinesin reaction cycle with a 2D optical force clamp. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2003;100:2351–2356. - PMC - PubMed
    1. Finer TJ, Simmons RM, Spudich JA. Single myosin molecule mechanics: piconewton forces and nanometre steps. Nature. 1994;368:113–119. - PubMed
    1. Parekh SH, Chaudhuri O, Theriot JA et al. Loading history determines the velocity of actin-network growth. Nat Cell Biol. 2005;7(12):1219–23. - PubMed