Membrane Tension Orchestrates Rear Retraction in Matrix-Directed Cell Migration

Dev Cell. 2019 Nov 18;51(4):460-475.e10. doi: 10.1016/j.devcel.2019.09.006. Epub 2019 Oct 10.


In development, wound healing, and cancer metastasis, vertebrate cells move through 3D interstitial matrix, responding to chemical and physical guidance cues. Protrusion at the cell front has been extensively studied, but the retraction phase of the migration cycle is not well understood. Here, we show that fast-moving cells guided by matrix cues establish positive feedback control of rear retraction by sensing membrane tension. We reveal a mechanism of rear retraction in 3D matrix and durotaxis controlled by caveolae, which form in response to low membrane tension at the cell rear. Caveolae activate RhoA-ROCK1/PKN2 signaling via the RhoA guanidine nucleotide exchange factor (GEF) Ect2 to control local F-actin organization and contractility in this subcellular region and promote translocation of the cell rear. A positive feedback loop between cytoskeletal signaling and membrane tension leads to rapid retraction to complete the migration cycle in fast-moving cells, providing directional memory to drive persistent cell migration in complex matrices.

Keywords: RhoGTPase; caveolae; cell invasion; cell migration; cytoskeleton; durotaxis; extracellular matrix; membrane tension.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Actin Cytoskeleton / metabolism
  • Actins / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Caveolae / physiology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Cell Membrane / physiology
  • Cell Movement / physiology*
  • Cell Polarity / physiology
  • Cell Surface Extensions / metabolism
  • Cell Surface Extensions / physiology
  • Cytoskeleton / metabolism
  • Cytosol / metabolism
  • Extracellular Matrix / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Protein Kinase C / metabolism
  • Pseudopodia / metabolism
  • Pseudopodia / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Signal Transduction
  • rho-Associated Kinases / metabolism
  • rhoA GTP-Binding Protein / metabolism


  • Actins
  • RHOA protein, human
  • protein kinase N
  • ROCK1 protein, human
  • rho-Associated Kinases
  • Protein Kinase C
  • rhoA GTP-Binding Protein