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Biophys J. 1994 Dec; 67(6): 2522–2534.
PMCID: PMC1225638

Kinetics of cell detachment: peeling of discrete receptor clusters.


Clustering of cell surface adhesion receptors is an essential step in the development of focal contacts, specialized cell-substrate attachment sites where receptors are simultaneously linked to extracellular ligand and cytoskeletal proteins. Previously, we examined the effect of receptor clustering on attachment strength. Here, we employ the numerical methodology developed by Dembo and colleagues (Dembo, M., D.C. Torney, K. Saxman, and D. Hammer. 1988. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B. 234:55-83) to investigate the kinetics of cell detachment when receptors are clustered into discrete patches. We show that the membrane peeling velocity decreases if receptors are clustered within a patch located inside the contact region. Peeling of clusters is influenced by the chemistry and mechanics of receptor-ligand bonds within the patch. Detachment is also prohibited if the applied tension equals the critical tension of the patch, unless the patch length is small compared with the boundary length over which membrane bending occurs, in which case the patch will peel. Peeling of these short patches only occurs when the mechanical stiffness of clustered bonds is within an optimal range. We compare our model predictions with experimental measurements of T lymphocyte detachment from ICAM-1 substrates. We demonstrate that if discrete patches of receptors are present, detachment occurs through intervals of slow and fast peeling, similar to the dynamics of T lymphocyte peeling, indicating that clustering of LFA-1 receptors is one possible explanation for the observed detachment kinetics in this system.

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