Researchers Discover the Molecular Mechanisms Behind Cell Movement

A team of researchers has discovered the details of how cells move throughout the body. By using new microscopy techniques, the team found the mechanisms that allow for cell migration. The findings may help scientists better understand inflammation and diseases such as cancer. The details are in a paper that was just published in the journal Nature Communications.

Researchers from Lund University studied T cells, cells that play a large role in the body’s immune system. Since T cells must travel in order to perform their functions, they were a good model for studying cell migration mechanisms. The team used fluorescent biosensors to track the cell’s movement and to see which molecules were responsible.

The team found that cells use two proteins, called actin and integrins, when moving. Actin form filaments in the cell membrane and have long been known for their role in cell movement. Integrins are located close to the cell’s surface and play a role in adhesion. Actin and integrins are connected by special molecules called adaptors. When connected, integrins receive signals to attach to a nearby surface. This pulls the cell slightly in that direction. Once movement has stopped, the adaptor detaches and actin separates from the integrins. The process can then start again in another part of the cell, resulting in a slow migration.

The findings finally provide scientists with new insights into how cell locomotion works at the molecular level. Thanks to new microscopy techniques and fluorescent markers, researchers were able to observe a cell in migration. Integrins play a key role in this process, as previous studies had suggested. The research team plans to continue their research, with a special focus on immune cells. They hope that their findings will lead to treatments for cancer, immune disorders, inflammation, and other problems caused in part by cell migration.


Pontus Nordenfelt et al. Coordinated integrin activation by actin-dependent force during T-cell migration. Nature Communications (2016).

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