Cell motility is a fundamental process associated with many phenomena in nature, such as immune response, wound healing, and cancer metastasis. In these processes, cells must squeeze through cell layers, and we characterize this ability to actively produce forces and simultaneously adapt their shapes. We have measured forward forces up to 15 nN that a migrating keratocyte was able to generate, in order to adjust its shape and successfully force its way under and past an obstacle. We also observed that 34 nN was capable of stalling the cell’s forward motion. Furthermore, we measured that under compression stresses up to 1,165 pN/μm2 (1,165 Pa), cell morphology, and velocity remained unchanged. Additionally, we found that keratocytes were able to compress themselves up to 80% vertically in order to squeeze through a gap as small as 500 nm.
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Atomic force microscope
Interference reflection microscopy
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The authors thank JPK-Instruments for their help. This work was supported by the EU project “Active Biomimetic Systems”, and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG KA 1116/3–2).
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