Cells: the ultimate driving machines

Anand Astha­giri from the chem­ical engi­neering depart­ment sees cells as micro­scopic machines. He com­pares the cell to a BMW: “It’s  the ulti­mate dri­ving machine, but how do you drive it? How do you get behind the wheel and make it go where you want it to go? ” He is attempting to answer this ques­tion in a number of ways. In one par­tic­ular approach, Astha­giri and his team design envi­ron­ments with adhe­sive mate­rial formed into micropat­terns. The cells move along these adhe­sive areas in the pres­ence of growth fac­tors, which cause them to deploy var­ious mech­a­nisms that result in a kind of crawling process. These crawling cells moving along the micropat­tern as if it were a pre-​​determined traffic route. Below are four videos from his most recent research article that show dif­ferent kinds of cell motility strate­gies. For more on Asthagiri’s work check out this story in the News@Northeastern.

Be sure to watch all four, they’re very short and get better as you move down the page!

Here is a cell moving along a stripe-​​shaped adhe­sive micropat­tern:


This is a dif­ferent cell motility strategy than the adhe­sive micropat­tern approach. Here, mol­e­cules that attract cells (chemoat­trac­tants) are spread over the area in a gra­dient, ranging from low con­cen­tra­tion to high con­cen­tra­tion. Here the cell is moving across that gra­dient toward the area of higher con­cen­tra­tion:


Here is a cell moving along a teardrop-​​shaped micropat­tern:


Here is a cell moving aross a spear-​​shaped micropat­tern (with an exciting event about halfway through):


Reprinted with per­mis­sion from Anand Astha­giri. Copy­right 2012 Amer­ican Chem­ical Society