Neutrophils display biphasic relationship between migration and substrate stiffness

Cell Motil Cytoskeleton. 2009 Jun;66(6):328-41. doi: 10.1002/cm.20363.


Neutrophils are one type of migrating cell in the body's innate immune system and are the first line of defense against inflammation or infection. While extensive work exists on the effect of adhesive proteins on neutrophil motility, little is known about how neutrophil motility is affected by the mechanical properties of their physical environment. This study investigated the effects of substrate stiffness on the morphology, random motility coefficient, track speed (v), spreading area, and distribution of turning angles of neutrophils during chemokinesis. Human neutrophils were plated onto polyacrylamide gels of varying stiffness, ranging from 3 to 13 kPa, and coated with the extracellular matrix protein fibronectin, and timelapse images were taken with phase contrast microscopy. Our results show a biphasic behavior between neutrophil motility and substrate stiffness, with the optimum stiffness for motility depending on the concentration of fibronectin on the surface of the gel. On 100 microg/mL fibronectin, the optimum stiffness is 4 kPa (v = 6.9 +/- 0.6 microm/min) while on 10 microg/mL fibronectin, the optimum stiffness increases to 7 kPa (v = 4.5 +/- 2.0 microm/min). This biphasic behavior most likely arises because neutrophils on soft gels are less adherent, preventing production of traction forces, while neutrophils on stiff gels adhere strongly, resulting in decreased migration. At intermediate stiffness, however, neutrophils can attain optimal motility as a function of extracellular matrix coating.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acrylic Resins / chemistry
  • Cell Adhesion / drug effects
  • Cell Adhesion / physiology
  • Cell Movement / drug effects
  • Cell Movement / immunology*
  • Extracellular Matrix / immunology
  • Fibronectins / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Neutrophils / cytology
  • Neutrophils / drug effects
  • Neutrophils / immunology*
  • Surface Properties / drug effects


  • Acrylic Resins
  • Fibronectins
  • polyacrylamide gels