Single-Cell Migration in Complex Microenvironments: Mechanics and Signaling Dynamics

J Biomech Eng. 2016 Feb;138(2):021004. doi: 10.1115/1.4032188.


Cells are highly dynamic and mechanical automata powered by molecular motors that respond to external cues. Intracellular signaling pathways, either chemical or mechanical, can be activated and spatially coordinated to induce polarized cell states and directional migration. Physiologically, cells navigate through complex microenvironments, typically in three-dimensional (3D) fibrillar networks. In diseases, such as metastatic cancer, they invade across physiological barriers and remodel their local environments through force, matrix degradation, synthesis, and reorganization. Important external factors such as dimensionality, confinement, topographical cues, stiffness, and flow impact the behavior of migrating cells and can each regulate motility. Here, we review recent progress in our understanding of single-cell migration in complex microenvironments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Cell Movement*
  • Cellular Microenvironment*
  • Mechanical Phenomena*
  • Signal Transduction*
  • Single-Cell Analysis / methods*