Physical forces guide curvature sensing and cell migration mode bifurcating

Luyi Feng, Tiankai Zhao, Hongmei Xu, Xuechen Shi, Changhao Li, K. Jimmy Hsia, Sulin Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The ability of cells to sense and adapt to curvy topographical features has been implicated in organ morphogenesis, tissue repair, and tumor metastasis. However, how individual cells or multicellular assemblies sense and differentiate curvatures remains elusive. Here, we reveal a curvature sensing mechanism in which surface tension can selectively activate either actin or integrin flows, leading to bifurcating cell migration modes: focal adhesion formation that enables cell crawling at convex front edges and actin cable assembly that pulls cells forward at concave front edges. The molecular flows and curved front morphogenesis are sustained by coordinated cellular tension generation and transmission. We track the molecular flows and mechanical force transduction pathways by a phase-field model, which predicts that multicellular curvature sensing is more efficient than individual cells, suggesting collective intelligence of cells. The unique ability of cells in curvature sensing and migration mode bifurcating may offer insights into emergent collective patterns and functions of living active systems at different length scales.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberpgad237
JournalPNAS Nexus
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General

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