Cells push out tiny feelers to probe their physical surroundings, but how much can these tiny sensors really discover? A new study led by Princeton University researchers and colleagues finds that the typical cell’s environment is highly varied in the stiffness or flexibility of the surrounding tissue, and that to gain a meaningful amount of information about its surroundings, the cell must move around and change shape. The finding aids the understanding of how cells respond to mechanical cues and may help explain what happens when migrating tumor cells colonize a new organ or when immune cells participate in wound healing.
“Our study looks at how cells literally feel their way through an environment, such as muscle or bone,” said Ned Wingreen, Princeton’s Howard A. Prior Professor in the Life Sciences and professor of molecular biology and the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics. “These tissues are highly disordered on the cellular scale, and the cell can only make measurements in the immediate area around it,” he said. “We wanted to model this process.” The study was published online on July 18 in the journal Nature Communications.
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