Directional collective cell migration emerges as a property of cell interactions

Mae L. Woods, Carlos Carmona-Fontaine, Chris P. Barnes, Iain D. Couzin, Roberto Mayor, Karen M. Page

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Collective cell migration is a fundamental process, occurring during embryogenesis and cancer metastasis. Neural crest cells exhibit such coordinated migration, where aberrant motion can lead to fatality or dysfunction of the embryo. Migration involves at least two complementary mechanisms: contact inhibition of locomotion (a repulsive interaction corresponding to a directional change of migration upon contact with a reciprocating cell), and co-attraction (a mutual chemoattraction mechanism). Here, we develop and employ a parameterized discrete element model of neural crest cells, to investigate how these mechanisms contribute to long-range directional migration during development. Motion is characterized using a coherence parameter and the time taken to reach, collectively, a target location. The simulated cell group is shown to switch from a diffusive to a persistent state as the response-rate to co-attraction is increased. Furthermore, the model predicts that when co-attraction is inhibited, neural crest cells can migrate into restrictive regions. Indeed, inhibition of co-attraction in vivo and in vitro leads to cell invasion into restrictive areas, confirming the prediction of the model. This suggests that the interplay between the complementary mechanisms may contribute to guidance of the neural crest. We conclude that directional migration is a system property and does not require action of external chemoattractants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere104969
JournalPloS one
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General


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