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J Phys Condens Matter. 2010 May 19;22(19):194118. doi: 10.1088/0953-8984/22/19/194118.

Actin disassembly 'clock' and membrane tension determine cell shape and turning: a mathematical model.

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Department of Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior, University of California, Davis, CA 95616 USA.


Motile cells regulate their shape and movements largely by remodeling the actin cytoskeleton. Principles of this regulation are becoming clear for simple-shaped steadily crawling cells, such as fish keratocytes. In particular, the shape of the leading edge and sides of the lamellipodium-cell motile appendage-is determined by graded actin distribution at the cell boundary, so that the denser actin network at the front grows, while sparser actin filaments at the sides are stalled by membrane tension. Shaping of the cell rear is less understood. Here we theoretically examine the hypothesis that the cell rear is shaped by the disassembly clock: the front-to-rear lamellipodial width is defined by the time needed for the actin-adhesion network to disassemble to the point at which the membrane tension can crush this network. We demonstrate that the theory predicts the observed cell shapes. Furthermore, turning of the cells can be explained by biases in the actin distribution. We discuss experimental implications of this hypothesis.

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