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Science and Mathematics

Physics of Collective Cell Migration: Unjamming and Kenotaxis

February 11, 2020 at 3:30pm5:00pm

Physics Building, 202/204

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The Department of Physics welcomes Dr. Jae Hun Kim to present their colloquia. Dr. Kim is a Research Scientist at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts, USA.  This speaker is a candidate for a faculty position in the Department of Physics, part of the cluster hiring initiative in the BioInspired Institute.

Abstract: Basic biological processes, including wound healing, embryo development and cancer invasion rely on collective cell migration. In this talk, I will present two examples in which such movements emerge from physical principles.

First, I will establish that asthmatic human bronchial airway epithelial cells can undergo an unjamming transition, a transition from a solid-like phase in which cells are virtually frozen in place, to a liquid-like phase in which cells promptly exchange their positions and readily flow in a manner reminiscent of inert matters such as colloids and sands. Contrary to the dogma in development and cancer biology, this transition is not dependent on the loss of E-cadherin, but rather relies on geometric constraints in which cell shape and shape variability are mutually constrained through a unifying relationship. In this relationship, as the cell layer becomes progressively more unjammed, cell shape becomes progressively more elongated and more variable. This holds true across diverse epithelia not only in asthma, but also in embryonic development and breast carcinoma.

Second, I will show that as a cellular collective moves, neighboring cells join the intercellular forces that coordinate cellular motions over multicellular assemblies and polarize the cellular traction forces toward an available space as if to fill that space. This pattering motif, called kenotaxis, is mediated by force transmission through cell-cell adhesion.

This event was first published on January 27, 2020 and last updated on February 10, 2020.

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