Modelling how the signalling molecule ERK influences cell migration
The microscopic world can be rough – cells self-destruct or fire chemicals at each other, some engulf their neighbours, all while prodding and poking to feel their way around. This skin-like sheet of mammalian cells communicates with an unusual combination of chemicals and shoving – a chemical called ERK helps a cell to stretch out, pushing into its neighbours and causing a knock-on effect – their ERK level begins to rise too. This feedback loop produces waves of physical jostling closely followed by waves of ERK, passing from cell to cell through the crowd (shown in orange). Mathematical models predict this creates an overall pulling force towards empty space – in the body this might explain how cells migrate towards a wound or how cancer cells spread, and may allow virtual trials of the effects of drugs on the cellular tussle.
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