On the energy efficiency of cell migration in diverse physical environments

Yizeng Li, Lingxing Yao, Yoichiro Mori, Sean X. Sun

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


In this work, we explore fundamental energy requirements during mammalian cell movement. Starting with the conservation of mass and momentum for the cell cytosol and the actin-network phase, we develop useful identities that compute dissipated energies during extensions of the cell boundary. We analyze 2 complementary mechanisms of cell movement: actin-driven and water-driven. The former mechanism occurs on 2-dimensional cell-culture substrate without appreciable external hydraulic resistance, while the latter mechanism is prominent in confined channels where external hydraulic resistance is high. By considering various forms of energy input and dissipation, we find that the water-driven cell-migration mechanism is inefficient and requires more energy. However, in environments with sufficiently high hydraulic resistance, the efficiency of actin-polymerization-driven cell migration decreases considerably, and the water-based mechanism becomes more efficient. Hence, the most efficient way for cells to move depends on the physical environment. This work can be extended to higher dimensions and has implication for understanding energetics of morphogenesis in early embryonic development and cancer-cell metastasis and provides a physical basis for understanding changing metabolic requirements for cell movement in different conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)23894-23900
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number48
StatePublished - Nov 26 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS. This work was supported by NSF Grants DMS-1852597 (to L.Y.) and DMS-1620316 (to Y.M.); and NIH Grants R01GM114675 and U54CA210172 (to S.X.S.).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.


  • Actin
  • Cell migration
  • Energy
  • Water flux


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