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Mol Biol Cell. 1999 Apr;10(4):1259-76.

Electric field-directed cell motility involves up-regulated expression and asymmetric redistribution of the epidermal growth factor receptors and is enhanced by fibronectin and laminin.

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Department of Biomedical Sciences, Institute of Medical Sciences, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen AB25 2ZD, Scotland.


Wounding corneal epithelium establishes a laterally oriented, DC electric field (EF). Corneal epithelial cells (CECs) cultured in similar physiological EFs migrate cathodally, but this requires serum growth factors. Migration depends also on the substrate. On fibronectin (FN) or laminin (LAM) substrates in EF, cells migrated faster and more directly cathodally. This also was serum dependent. Epidermal growth factor (EGF) restored cathodal-directed migration in serum-free medium. Therefore, the hypothesis that EGF is a serum constituent underlying both field-directed migration and enhanced migration on ECM molecules was tested. We used immunofluorescence, flow cytometry, and confocal microscopy and report that 1) EF exposure up-regulated the EGF receptor (EGFR); so also did growing cells on substrates of FN or LAM; and 2) EGFRs and actin accumulated in the cathodal-directed half of CECs, within 10 min in EF. The cathodal asymmetry of EGFR and actin staining was correlated, being most marked at the cell-substrate interface and showing similar patterns of asymmetry at various levels through a cell. At the cell-substrate interface, EGFRs and actin frequently colocalized as interdigitated, punctate spots resembling tank tracks. Cathodal accumulation of EGFR and actin did not occur in the absence of serum but were restored by adding ligand to serum-free medium. Inhibition of MAPK, one second messenger engaged by EGF, significantly reduced EF-directed cell migration. Transforming growth factor beta and fibroblast growth factor also restored cathodal-directed cell migration in serum-free medium. However, longer EF exposure was needed to show clear asymmetric distribution of the receptors for transforming growth factor beta and fibroblast growth factor. We propose that up-regulated expression and redistribution of EGFRs underlie cathodal-directed migration of CECs and directed migration induced by EF on FN and LAM.

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