Mathematical model for the effects of adhesion and mechanics on cell migration speed

Biophys J. 1991 Jul;60(1):15-37. doi: 10.1016/S0006-3495(91)82027-6.


Migration of mammalian blood and tissue cells over adhesive surfaces is apparently mediated by specific reversible reactions between cell membrane adhesion receptors and complementary ligands attached to the substratum. Although in a number of systems these receptors and ligand molecules have been isolated and identified, a theory capable of predicting the effects of their properties on cell migration behavior currently does not exist. We present a simple mathematical model for elucidating the dependence of cell speed on adhesion-receptor/ligand binding and cell mechanical properties. Our model can be applied to propose answers to questions such as: does an optimal adhesiveness exist for cell movement? How might changes in receptor and ligand density and/or affinity affect the rate of migration? Can cell rheological properties influence movement speed? This model incorporates cytoskeletal force generation, cell polarization, and dynamic adhesion as requirements for persistent cell movement. A critical feature is the proposed existence of an asymmetry in some cell adhesion-receptor property, correlated with cell polarity. We consider two major alternative mechanisms underlying this asymmetry: (a) a spatial distribution of adhesion-receptor number due to polarized endocytic trafficking and (b) a spatial variation in adhesion-receptor/ligand bond strength. Applying a viscoelastic-solid model for cell mechanics allows us to represent one-dimensional locomotion with a system of differential equations describing cell deformation and displacement along with adhesion-receptor dynamics. In this paper, we solve these equations under the simplifying assumption that receptor dynamics are at a quasi-steady state relative to cell locomotion. Thus, our results are strictly valid for sufficiently slow cell movement, as typically observed for tissue cells such as fibroblasts. Numerical examples relevant to experimental systems are provided. Our results predict how cell speed might vary with intracellular contractile force, cell rheology, receptor/ligand kinetics, and receptor/ligand number densities. A biphasic dependence is shown to be possible with respect to some of the system parameters, with position of the maxima essentially governed by a balance between transmitted contractile force and adhesiveness. We demonstrate that predictions for the two alternative asymmetry mechanisms can be distinguished and could be experimentally tested using cell populations possessing different adhesion-receptor numbers.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Adhesion*
  • Cell Movement*
  • Cell Physiological Phenomena
  • Cells / cytology
  • Endocytosis
  • Mammals
  • Mathematics
  • Models, Biological*