Cellular Contact Guidance Emerges from Gap Avoidance

Buskermolen, Antonetta B.C., Ristori, Tommaso, Mostert, Dylan, van Turnhout, Mark C., Shishvan, Siamak S., Loerakker, Sandra, Kurniawan, Nicholas A., Deshpande, Vikram S. & Bouten, Carlijn V.C.

Published: 20 May 2020

In the presence of anisotropic biochemical or topographical patterns, cells tend to align in the direction of these cues—a widely reported phenomenon known as “contact guidance.” To investigate the origins of contact guidance, here, we created substrates micropatterned with parallel lines of fibronectin with dimensions spanning multiple orders of magnitude. Quantitative morphometric analysis of our experimental data reveals two regimes of contact guidance governed by the length scale of the cues that cannot be explained by enforced alignment of focal adhesions. Adopting computational simulations of cell remodeling on inhomogeneous substrates based on a statistical mechanics framework for living cells, we show that contact guidance emerges from anisotropic cell shape fluctuation and “gap avoidance,” i.e., the energetic penalty of cell adhesions on non-adhesive gaps. Our findings therefore point to general biophysical mechanisms underlying cellular contact guidance, without the necessity of invoking specific molecular pathways.

Full Access Link: Cell Reports Physical Science