Cell migration strategies in 3-D extracellular matrix: differences in morphology, cell matrix interactions, and integrin function

Microsc Res Tech. 1998 Dec 1;43(5):369-78. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1097-0029(19981201)43:5<369::AID-JEMT3>3.0.CO;2-6.


Cell migration in extracellular matrix is a complex process of adhesion and deadhesion events combined with cellular strategies to overcome the biophysical resistance imposed by three-dimensionally interconnected matrix ligands. Using a 3-D collagen matrix migration model in combination with computer-assisted cell tracking for reconstruction of migration paths and confocal microscopy, we investigated molecular principles governing cell-matrix interactions and migration of different cell types. Highly invasive MV3 melanoma cells and fibroblasts are large and highly polarized cells migrating at low speed (0.1-0.5 microm/min) and at high directional persistence. MV3 melanoma cells utilize adhesive migration strategies as characterized by high beta1 integrin surface expression, beta1 integrin clustering at interactions with matrix fibers, and beta1 integrin-mediated adhesion for force generation and migration. In contrast, T lymphocytes and dendritic cells are highly mobile cells of lower beta1 integrin expression migrating at 10- to 40-fold higher velocities, and directionally unpredictable path profiles. This migration occurs in the absence of focal adhesions and largely independent of beta1 integrin-mediated adhesion. Whereas cell-matrix interactions of migrating tumor cells result in traction and reorientation of collagen fibers, partial matrix degradation, and pore formation, leukocytes form transient and short-lived interactions with the collagen lacking structural proteolysis and matrix remodeling. In conclusion, the 3-D extracellular matrix provides a spatially complex and biomechanically demanding substrate for cell migration, thereby differing from cell migration across planar ligands. Highly adhesive and integrin-dependent migration strategies detected in morphologically large and slowly migrating cells may result in reorganization of the extracellular matrix, whereas leukocytes favor largely integrin-independent, rapid, and flexible migration strategies lacking typical focal adhesions and structural matrix remodeling.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Adhesion / physiology
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Movement / physiology*
  • Collagen / physiology
  • Computer Simulation
  • Dendritic Cells / physiology
  • Extracellular Matrix / physiology*
  • Fibroblasts / physiology
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Integrins / metabolism*
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Microscopy, Video
  • T-Lymphocytes / physiology


  • Integrins
  • Collagen