Propagating Wave of ERK Activation Orients Collective Cell Migration

Dev Cell. 2017 Nov 6;43(3):305-317.e5. doi: 10.1016/j.devcel.2017.10.016.


The biophysical framework of collective cell migration has been extensively investigated in recent years; however, it remains elusive how chemical inputs from neighboring cells are integrated to coordinate the collective movement. Here, we provide evidence that propagation waves of extracellular signal-related kinase (ERK) mitogen-activated protein kinase activation determine the direction of the collective cell migration. A wound-healing assay of Mardin-Darby canine kidney (MDCK) epithelial cells revealed two distinct types of ERK activation wave, a "tidal wave" from the wound, and a self-organized "spontaneous wave" in regions distant from the wound. In both cases, MDCK cells collectively migrated against the direction of the ERK activation wave. The inhibition of ERK activation propagation suppressed collective cell migration. An ERK activation wave spatiotemporally controlled actomyosin contraction and cell density. Furthermore, an optogenetic ERK activation wave reproduced the collective cell migration. These data provide new mechanistic insight into how cells sense the direction of collective cell migration.

Keywords: ERK; FRET; collective cell migration; force; mathematical model; myosin light chain; simulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Actomyosin / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Cell Movement / physiology*
  • Dogs
  • Enzyme Activation
  • Epithelial Cells / cytology*
  • Kidney / metabolism
  • MAP Kinase Signaling System / physiology*
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / metabolism*
  • Phosphorylation
  • Wound Healing / physiology


  • Actomyosin
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases