Prediction of Traction Forces of Motile Cells

Interface Focus. 2016 Oct 6;6(5):20160042. doi: 10.1098/rsfs.2016.0042.


When crawling on a flat substrate, living cells exert forces on it via adhesive contacts, enabling them to build up tension within their cytoskeleton and to change shape. The measurement of these forces has been made possible by traction force microscopy (TFM), a technique which has allowed us to obtain time-resolved traction force maps during cell migration. This cell 'footprint' is, however, not sufficient to understand the details of the mechanics of migration, that is how cytoskeletal elements (respectively, adhesion complexes) are put under tension and reinforce or deform (respectively, mature and/or unbind) as a result. In a recent paper, we have validated a rheological model of actomyosin linking tension, deformation and myosin activity. Here, we complement this model with tentative models of the mechanics of adhesion and explore how closely these models can predict the traction forces that we recover from experimental measurements during cell migration. The resulting mathematical problem is a PDE set on the experimentally observed domain, which we solve using a finite-element approach. The four parameters of the model can then be adjusted by comparison with experimental results on a single frame of an experiment, and then used to test the predictive power of the model for following frames and other experiments. It is found that the basic pattern of traction forces is robustly predicted by the model and fixed parameters as a function of current geometry only.

Keywords: cell adhesion; cell migration; cytoskeleton; emergent material; finite elements; modelling.