Researchers from the UB and from the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC), affiliated centre to the HUBc, the health campus of the UB, shed new light on how the cells in our bodies collectively migrate, a critical process in physiological phenomena such as embryonic development and wound healing, but which is also integral to the development of cancer.
When an organism develops its shape or heals wounds, or when tumours metastasize, cells undergo massive collective movements. Despite decades of research, the mechanisms underpinning these movements remain poorly understood. Now, in a study published in the journal Nature Physics scientists, coordinated by ICREA researcher Xavier Trepat, from the Department of Physiological Sciences I at the Faculty of Medicine of the UB, have discovered that massive cell movements occur in a wave-like manner.
In studying the motion of cell clusters, the scientists detected evidence of wave-like crests of deformation launched at the edges of the clusters and propagating from cell to cell at roughly twice the speed at which cells were moving. “Imagine watching a traffic jam from above”, says Integrative Cell and Tissue Dynamics group leader Xavier Trepat, “you’ll see a similar kind of wave effect as some cars edge forward and others follow after a slight delay to fill the gaps. Unlike cars, however, cells in our study are able to push and pull from each other, so the phenomenon is much richer”. Mechanical waves in inert matter have been well understood for a long time, but this is the first time they are observed in living matter.
The group’s findings establish a pattern of stress and strain reiterated in time and space across a multicellular tissue, something which is a likely candidate for the driving force behind the activation of the networks responsible for the cellular invasion typical of cancer. According to Trepat, “our newly discovered ‘wave’ could play a leading role in triggering the required pathways.
With these latest results, scientists are yet another step closer to understanding how cells migrate, and thus a stage nearer to understanding the dynamics of tumour cells and the physical mechanisms they use to break away and metastasize.
Article: X. Serra-Picamal, V. Conte, R. Vincent, E. Anon, D. T. Tambe, E. Bazellieres, J. P. Butler, J. Fredberg, X. Trepat. “Mechanical waves during tissue expansion”. Nature Physics, July 2012.