Symmetry-breaking in mammalian cell cohort migration during tissue pattern formation: Role of random-walk persistence

S. Huang, C. P. Brangwynne, K. K. Parker, Donald E. Ingber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Scopus citations


Coordinated, cohort cell migration plays an important role in the morphogenesis of tissue patterns in metazoa. However, individual cells intrinsically move in a random walk-like fashion when studied in vitro. Hence, in the absence of an external orchestrating influence or template, the emergence of cohort cell migration must involve a symmetry-breaking event. To study this process, we used a novel experimental system in which multiple capillary endothelial cells exhibit spontaneous and robust cohort migration in the absence of chemical gradients when cultured on micrometer-scale extracellular matrix islands fabricated using microcontact printing. A computational model suggested that directional persistence of random-walk and dynamic mechanical coupling of adjacent cells are the critical control parameters for this symmetry-breaking behavior that is induced in spatially-constrained cell ensembles. The model predicted our finding that fibroblasts, which exhibit a much shorter motility persistence time than endothelial cells, failed to undergo symmetry breaking or produce cohort migration on the matrix islands. These findings suggest that cells have intrinsic motility characteristics that are tuned to match their role in tissue patterning. Our results underscore the importance of studying cell motility in the context of cell populations, and the need to address emergent features in multicellular organisms that arise not only from cell-cell and cell-matrix interactions, but also from properties that are intrinsic to individual cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)201-213
Number of pages13
JournalCell Motility and the Cytoskeleton
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2005
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Structural Biology
  • Cell Biology


  • Computational biology
  • Development
  • Endothelial cell
  • Microfabrication
  • Morphogenesis
  • Motility


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