Propagating Waves of Directionality and Coordination Orchestrate Collective Cell Migration

Assaf Zaritsky, Doron Kaplan, Inbal Hecht, Sari Natan, Lior Wolf, Nir S. Gov, Eshel Ben-Jacob, Ilan Tsarfaty

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The ability of cells to coordinately migrate in groups is crucial to enable them to travel long distances during embryonic development, wound healing and tumorigenesis, but the fundamental mechanisms underlying intercellular coordination during collective cell migration remain elusive despite considerable research efforts. A novel analytical framework is introduced here to explicitly detect and quantify cell clusters that move coordinately in a monolayer. The analysis combines and associates vast amount of spatiotemporal data across multiple experiments into transparent quantitative measures to report the emergence of new modes of organized behavior during collective migration of tumor and epithelial cells in wound healing assays. First, we discovered the emergence of a wave of coordinated migration propagating backward from the wound front, which reflects formation of clusters of coordinately migrating cells that are generated further away from the wound edge and disintegrate close to the advancing front. This wave emerges in both normal and tumor cells, and is amplified by Met activation with hepatocyte growth factor/scatter factor. Second, Met activation was found to induce coinciding waves of cellular acceleration and stretching, which in turn trigger the emergence of a backward propagating wave of directional migration with about an hour phase lag. Assessments of the relations between the waves revealed that amplified coordinated migration is associated with the emergence of directional migration. Taken together, our data and simplified modeling-based assessments suggest that increased velocity leads to enhanced coordination: higher motility arises due to acceleration and stretching that seems to increase directionality by temporarily diminishing the velocity components orthogonal to the direction defined by the monolayer geometry. Spatial and temporal accumulation of directionality thus defines coordination. The findings offer new insight and suggest a basic cellular mechanism for long-term cell guidance and intercellular communication during collective cell migration.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numbere1003747
JournalPLoS Computational Biology
Issue number7
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Modelling and Simulation
  • Ecology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics


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