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Nat Protoc. 2014 Aug;9(8):1931-43. doi: 10.1038/nprot.2014.131. Epub 2014 Jul 17.

Quantitative and unbiased analysis of directional persistence in cell migration.

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Laboratoire d'Enzymologie et Biochimie Structurales, Gif-sur-Yvette, France.


The mechanism by which cells control directional persistence during migration is a major question. However, the common index measuring directional persistence, namely the ratio of displacement to trajectory length, is biased, particularly by cell speed. An unbiased method is to calculate direction autocorrelation as a function of time. This function depends only on the angles of the vectors tangent to the trajectory. This method has not been widely used, because it is more difficult to compute. Here we discuss biases of the classical index and introduce a custom-made open-source computer program, DiPer, which calculates direction autocorrelation. In addition, DiPer also plots and calculates other essential parameters to analyze cell migration in two dimensions: it displays cell trajectories individually and collectively, and it calculates average speed and mean square displacements (MSDs) to assess the area explored by cells over time. This user-friendly program is executable through Microsoft Excel, and it generates plots of publication-level quality. The protocol takes ∼15 min to complete. We have recently used DiPer to analyze cell migration of three different mammalian cell types in 2D cultures: the mammary carcinoma cell line MDA-MB-231, the motile amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum and fish-scale keratocytes. DiPer can potentially be used not only for random migration in 2D but also for directed migration and for migration in 3D (direction autocorrelation only). Moreover, it can be used for any types of tracked particles: cellular organelles, bacteria and whole organisms.

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