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Trends Cell Biol. 2009 Sep;19(9):428-33. doi: 10.1016/j.tcb.2009.05.009. Epub 2009 Aug 24.

Do membrane undulations help cells probe the world?

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INSERM UMR600, Lab. Adhesion & Inflammation, Parc de Luminy, Case 937, 13288 Marseille Cedex 09 France.


Cells sense physical properties of their environment including substratum rigidity, roughness, and topography of recognition sites. The cell surface displays continuous deformations of nanometer-scale amplitude and Hz frequency. Recent results support the hypothesis that these surface undulations constitute a powerful strategy for the rapid acquisition of environmental cues: transient contact with surroundings generates forces of piconewton intensity as a result of rapid formation and dissociation of intermolecular bonds. The combination of binding and steric forces is expected to drive conformational changes and lateral reorganization of membrane biomolecules, thus generating signaling cascades. We propose that spontaneous membrane mobility shapes the initial information generated by cell-to-surface contacts, and thereby biases later consequences of these interactions.

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