Eukaryotic cell dynamics from crawlers to swimmers

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Movement requires force transmission to the environment, and motile cells are robustly, though not elegantly, designed nanomachines that often can cope with a variety of environmental conditions by altering the mode of force transmission used.a As with humans, the available modes range from momentary attachment to a substrate when crawling, to shape deformations when swimming, and at the cellular level this involves sensing the mechanical properties of the environment and altering the mode appropriately. While many types of cells can adapt their mode of movement to their microenvironment (ME), our understanding of how they detect, transduce and process information from the ME to determine the optimal mode is still rudimentary. The shape and integrity of a cell is determined by its cytoskeleton (CSK), and thus the shape changes that may be required to move involve controlled remodeling of the CSK. Motion in vivo is often in response to extracellular signals, which requires the ability to detect such signals and transduce them into the shape changes and force generation needed for movement. Thus the nanomachine is complex, and while much is known about individual components involved in movement, an integrated understanding of motility in even simple cells such as bacteria is not at hand. In this review we discuss recent advances in our understanding of cell motility and some of the problems remaining to be solved. This article is categorized under Structure and Mechanism > Computational Materials Science Structure and Mechanism > Computational Biochemistry and Biophysics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1376
JournalWiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Computational Molecular Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Simons Foundation; NIH, Grant/Award Number: 54-CA-210190; NSF, Grant/Award Numbers: 131974, 9517884

Funding Information:
Supported in part by NSF Grant DMS #s 9517884 and 131974, by NIH Grant #54-CA-210190, by the Newton Institute, and by a grant from the Simons Foundation. “Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.” The author gratefully acknowledges Bryan Felix, Hailee Peck, and Hao Wu for detailed comments on an early draft.


  • actin dynamics
  • cell motility
  • signal transduction

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