Periodic propagating waves coordinate RhoGTPase network dynamics at the leading and trailing edges during cell migration

Elife. 2020 Jul 24:9:e58165. doi: 10.7554/eLife.58165.


Migrating cells need to coordinate distinct leading and trailing edge dynamics but the underlying mechanisms are unclear. Here, we combine experiments and mathematical modeling to elaborate the minimal autonomous biochemical machinery necessary and sufficient for this dynamic coordination and cell movement. RhoA activates Rac1 via DIA and inhibits Rac1 via ROCK, while Rac1 inhibits RhoA through PAK. Our data suggest that in motile, polarized cells, RhoA-ROCK interactions prevail at the rear, whereas RhoA-DIA interactions dominate at the front where Rac1/Rho oscillations drive protrusions and retractions. At the rear, high RhoA and low Rac1 activities are maintained until a wave of oscillatory GTPase activities from the cell front reaches the rear, inducing transient GTPase oscillations and RhoA activity spikes. After the rear retracts, the initial GTPase pattern resumes. Our findings show how periodic, propagating GTPase waves coordinate distinct GTPase patterns at the leading and trailing edge dynamics in moving cells.

Keywords: cell biology; cell migration; computational biology; human; mathematical modeling; nonlinear dynamics; oscillations and waves; rho gtpases; systems biology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Movement* / genetics
  • Cell Polarity* / genetics
  • Humans
  • rac1 GTP-Binding Protein / genetics*
  • rac1 GTP-Binding Protein / metabolism
  • rho-Associated Kinases / genetics*
  • rho-Associated Kinases / metabolism
  • rhoA GTP-Binding Protein / genetics*
  • rhoA GTP-Binding Protein / metabolism


  • RAC1 protein, human
  • RHOA protein, human
  • ROCK1 protein, human
  • rho-Associated Kinases
  • rac1 GTP-Binding Protein
  • rhoA GTP-Binding Protein