Subcellular tension fields and mechanical resistance of the lamella front related to the direction of locomotion

Cell Biochem Biophys. 1998;29(3):243-62. doi: 10.1007/BF02737897.


Keratocytes derived from the epidermis of aquatic vertebrates are now widely used for investigation of the mechanism of cell locomotion. One of the main topics under discussion is the question of driving force development and concomitantly subcellular force distribution. Do cells move by actin polymerization-driven extension of the lamella, or is the lamella edge extended at regions of weakness by a flow of cytoplasm generated by hydrostatic pressure? Thus, elasticity changes were followed and the stiffness of the leading front of the lamella was manipulated by local application of phalloidin and cytochalasin D (CD). In scanning acoustic microscopy (SAM), elasticity is revealed from the propagation velocity of longitudinal sound waves (1 GHz). The lateral resolution of SAM is in the micrometer range. Using this method, subcellular tension fields with different stiffnesses (elasticity) can be determined. A typical pattern of subcellular stiffness distribution is related to the direction of migration. Cells forced to change their direction of movement by exposure to DC electric fields of varying polarity alter their pattern of subcellular stiffness in relationship to the new direction. The cells spread into the direction of low stiffness and retract at zones of high stiffness. The pattern of subcellular stiffness distribution reveals force distribution in migrating cells; i.e., if a cell moves exactly in a direction perpendicular to its long axis, then the contractile forces are largest along the long axis and decrease toward the short axis. Locomotion in any angle oblique to this axis requires an asymmetric stiffness distribution. Inhibition of actomyosin contractions by La3+ (2 mM), which inhibits Ca2+ influx, reduces cytoplasmic stiffness accompanied by an immediate cessation of locomotion and a change of cell shape. Local release of CD in front of a progressing lamella activates a cell to follow the CD gradient: The lamella thickens locally and is extended toward the tip of the microcapillary. Release of phalloidin stops extension of the lamella, and the cell turns away from the releasing microcapillary. The response to CD is assumed to be the result of local weakening of the cytoplasm due to severing of the actin fibrils. Phalloidin is supposed to stabilize the leading front by inhibition of F-actin depolymerization. These observations are in favor of the assumption that migration is due to an extension of the cell into the direction of minimum stiffness, and they are consistent with the hypothesis that local release of hydrostatic pressure provides the driving force for the flux of cytoplasm.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Movement* / drug effects
  • Cell Movement* / physiology
  • Culture Techniques
  • Cytochalasin D / pharmacology
  • Cytological Techniques
  • Cytoplasm / physiology*
  • Cytoplasm / ultrastructure
  • Cytoskeleton / physiology
  • Cytoskeleton / ultrastructure
  • Elasticity / drug effects
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Keratinocytes / physiology*
  • Keratinocytes / ultrastructure
  • Lanthanum / pharmacology
  • Microscopy
  • Phalloidine / pharmacology
  • Sound
  • Xenopus laevis


  • Phalloidine
  • Cytochalasin D
  • Lanthanum