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Cell migration plays an essential role in many biological processes, such as cancer metastasis, wound healing and immune response. Cell migration is mediated through protrusion and focal adhesion (FA) assembly, maturation and disassembly. Epidermal growth factor (EGF) is known to enhance migration rate in many cell types; however it is not known how FA maturation, FA dynamics and protrusion dynamics are regulated during EGF-induced migration. Here we use total internal reflection fluorescence (TIRF) microscopy and image analysis to quantify FA properties and protrusion dynamics under different doses of EGF stimulation.
EGF was found to broaden the distribution of cell migration rates, generating more fast and slow cells. Furthermore, groups based on EGF stimulation condition or cell migration speed were marked by characteristic signatures. When data was binned based on EGF stimulation conditions, FA intensity and FA number per cell showed the largest difference among stimulation groups. FA intensity decreased with increasing EGF concentration and FA number per cell was highest under intermediate stimulation conditions. No difference in protrusion behavior was observed. However, when data was binned based on cell migration speed, FA intensity and not FA number per cell showed the largest difference among groups. FA intensity was lower for fast migrating cells. Additionally, waves of protrusion tended to correlate with fast migrating cells.
Only a portion of the FA properties and protrusion dynamics that correlate with migration speed, correlate with EGF stimulation condition. Those that do not correlate with EGF stimulation condition constitute the most sensitive output for identifying why cells respond differently to EGF. The idea that EGF can both increase and decrease the migration speed of individual cells in a population has particular relevance to cancer metastasis where the microenvironment can select subpopulations based on some adhesion and protrusion characteristics, leading to a more invasive phenotype as would be seen if all cells responded like an “average” cell.