When an individual cell needs to move somewhere, it manages just fine on its own. It extends protrusions from its leading edge and retracts the trailing edge to scoot itself along, without having to worry about what the other cells around it are doing. But when cells are joined together in a sheet of tissue, or epithelium, they have to coordinate their movements with their neighbors. It’s like walking by yourself versus navigating a crowded room. To push through the crowd, you have to communicate with others by talking (“Pardon me”) or tapping them on the shoulder. Cells do the same thing, but instead of verbal cues and hand gestures, they use proteins to signal to each other.
This kind of coordinated migration is important during embryonic development when cells migrate to form organs, during healing when they move to close a wound, and unfortunately during the spread of many cancers. Scientists already knew about some of the proteins involved in this process, but research from the University of Chicago has identified a new signaling system that epithelial cells use to coordinate their individual movements and efficiently move tissues. Paper. (paywall) – Kari Barlan, Maureen Cetera, Sally Horne-Badovinac. Fat2 and Lar Define a Basally Localized Planar Signaling System Controlling Collective Cell Migration. Developmental Cell, 2017; 40 (5): 467 DOI: 10.1016/j.devcel.2017.02.003 More.
Yet another new system that just somehow evolved, coordinated with dozens of others.
See also: Cells poll their neighbours before moving around
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