Collective Cell Migration in Tissue Building


Collective cell migration (CCM) is an essential process during tissue building and morphogenesis of animal body plans, but it can also occur in pathogenic situations. A detailed study of this cell behaviour in several model systems has allowed to determine that cells move coordinately but interact differently while migrating together, thus defining several categories of collective cell movements. They are regulated by guidance signals that act as chemoattractants and allow directionality of movement and whose levels, together with the action of repulsive molecular cues, influence this movement. Besides, cells in the moving group affect each other through cell–cell interactions but they also interplay with the environment. Here, we describe the specific features of CCM and its different manifestations in vivo. We also discuss the potential relevance of the results obtained in the study of this cell behaviour in deciphering the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying tumour invasion and metastasis.

Key Concepts

  • Cells can move either individually or collectivelly.
  • Collective cell migration occurs during morphogenesis of animal body plans.
  • Abnormal collective migration underlies pathological states such as tumour cell invasion and metastasis.
  • During collective cell migration, groups of cells move together directionally and in a coordinated manner.
  • Collective cell movements are regulated by dynamic gradients of extracellular signalling molecules, environmental geometrical constraints and intercellular communication.
  • Different types of collective cell movements have been defined according to the interactions among the cells in the moving cluster.
  • The use of in vitro, in vivo and theoretical models is contributing to understand how collective cell migration occurs.

Keywords: collective migration; morphogenesis; cell signalling; cell behaviour; model systems; tumour invasion

Figure 1. Cell collectives follow different migrating strategies. Schematic representation of the different types of CCM. (a) Sheet migration, white arrows indicate the contribution of different cells to the net movement of the whole group. (b) Border cell migration, an example of a free group, the central red cells are immobile and are transported by the surrounding group through other cells of the Drosophila oocyte. (c) Chain (left) and stream (right) migration, red arrows indicate interactions between cells that contribute to their coordination via cell adhesion and CIL. The red line represents a pre‐existing structure (i.e. an axon) that guides cells. (d) Slug migration, the red line indicates a signalling trail that directs migration. (e) During branching, cells rearrange within the forming branches to build highly elaborated structures. (f) In sprouting morphogenesis, a tip cell (red) is specified and starts migrating, then adjacent cells (or stalk cells, in pink and light purple) follow it without loosing contact.
Figure 2. Drosophila dorsal closure as a model of sheet migration. (a) Schematic representation of a dorsal view of Drosophila embryos at different stages of the dorsal closure process. Magnification of the interface between epidermal and amnioserosa (AS) cells is shown at the left part of the panel. The actin cable (AC) is depicted in red and the leading edge (LE) cells are shadowed in grey. Coloured arrows at the right part of the panel indicate forces generated by AS cells (blue), the AC (red) and the zippering process (green). (b) Confocal image of an embryo at the dorsal closure stage stained with phalloidin to show actin structures. The region corresponds to the same magnified in (a). Red arrowheads point to filopodia extended by LE cells during dorsal closure. An AS cell has been outlined in red to indicate the area measured in (c). (c) Graphic representation of apical cell surface fluctuations of an AS cell from the beginning of dorsal closure to late stages of the process. (a) and (c) are reproduced with permission from Solon et al., 2009 © Elsevier.
Figure 3. Role of Notch signalling in tip/stalk cell specification during endothelial sprouting. (a) Cartoon showing the cooperation between VEGF and Notch signalling for sprout formation during the angiogenic process. Yellow cells present a balance between Notch and Dll4 expression, green cells respond to the high levels of VEGF upregulating Dll4 and acquiring tip cell behaviour. Dll4 activates Notch signalling in neighbouring cells (red) that are specified as stalk cells. (b–d) Confocal images of zebrafish 30 hpf stage embryos expressing EGFP in endothelial cells. (b) Segmental artery sprouts of wild‐type morphology. (c) Ectopic sprouts (arrows) are formed upon reduction of Notch signalling using a Rbpsuh morpholino oligonucleotide. (d) Upregulation of Notch signalling, through notch1a intracellular domain overexpression, abolishes sprout formation and only occasional sprouts (arrowhead) or cytoplasmic extensions (arrow) from dorsal aorta appear. (a) Adapted with permission from Eilken and Adams (2010) © Elsevier. (b–d) Adapted with permission from Siekmann and Lawson (2007) © Nature Publishing Group.
Figure 4. Ductal elongation during mammary gland development occurs without leading cellular extensions in a rearranging, multilayered cell epithelium. (a–a′′) Confocal images of an ex vivo elongating duct, in which labelling of F‐actin and nuclei are shown. As it can be seen in (a′), cells at the front of advancing mammary ducts form neither cellular extensions (such as filopodia) nor other actin‐rich protrusions. Moreover, as shown in (a′′), the tip of growing buds is composed of several cell layers. (b–b′′) Cell rearrangements during ductal elongation. The upper parts of the panels show frames from a time‐lapse movie in an extending duct labeled with CellTracker (red) and Sca‐1‐EGFP to track cells. The lower parts of the panels are schematic views of the corresponding movie frame in which individual cells are highlighted. Note that cells in the multilayered region of the extending duct continuously exchange positions during the process. Adapted with permission from Ewald et al., 2008 © Elsevier.


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Further Reading

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Muñoz‐Soriano, Verónica, and Paricio, Nuria(May 2015) Collective Cell Migration in Tissue Building. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0025975]