Most human malignancies are of epithelial origin. Transformed epithelial cells spread from the primary tumor site and invade surrounding tissues through the production of migratory structures (e.g., filopodia, invadopodia, and lamellapodia). The relative abundance of migratory structures is correlated with the metastatic potential of tumor cells. Migratory structures form by remodeling actin at the leading edge of transformed epithelial cells. Growth factors (e.g., epidermal growth factor, EGF) initiate actin remodeling by targeting their receptors (e.g., epidermal growth factor receptor) on the plasma membrane of transformed cells. Although the EGF pathway is well characterized, we lack experimental evidence to quantify forces that contribute to migration, including adhesive traction, resistive viscous drag, and protrusive forces. This work will focus on protrusive forces that occur at the leading edge of a living cell. They arise when the chemical energy released upon actin polymerization produces a pushing force against the plasma membrane, driven by the greater concentration of monomeric actin in the solution relative to the biopolymer. When an actin bundle is attached to the plasma membrane, depolymerization of F-actin produces a pulling force on the membrane. This reverse chemical reaction is driven by a lower concentration of monomer in the bulk relative to the biopolymer. Experimental measurements of the magnitude and time course of the pushing force in living cells are lacking and there are no measurements of the pulling force arising from the depolymerization of F-actin. The goal of this work is to determine the time course and magnitude of the pushing and pulling forces at the fast-growing end of an F-actin bundle. We will use the membrane as a sensor to determine the force at the motor-level in cancer cells. We will stimulate transformed epithelial cells to form migratory structures by EGF or with active effectors within the EGF pathway. We will use optical tweezers to measure the force, fluorescence microscopy to image F- actin, and develop methodology to measure both simultaneously. This work will provide a functional model of the actin motor at a leading edge of transformed epithelial cells, and advance the field in understanding cell migration during the invasive stage of cancer by providing measurements of the protrusive force at one leading edge. It will provide a quantitative experimental method to investigate the transduction machinery of this chemical motor, and fundamental insight into the integrated operations of the cell membrane and actin motor. This work will provide a basis to design force sensors for applications in nanotechnology.

Public Health Relevance

This study will help us to better understand specific roles of F-actin, a key protein in all mammalian cells. This protein plays an important role in cell growth and development. It has a significant role during the invasive stage of many aggressive cancers. The research techniques will advance the development of bio-molecular sensors for applications in nanotechnology.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Cancer Institute (NCI)
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
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Nanotechnology Study Section (NANO)
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Knowlton, John R
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Baylor College of Medicine
Schools of Medicine
United States
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Yellin, Florence; Li, Yizeng; Sreenivasan, Varun K A et al. (2018) Electromechanics and Volume Dynamics in Nonexcitable Tissue Cells. Biophys J 114:2231-2242
Rajasekharan, Vivek; Sreenivasan, Varun K A; Farrell, Brenda (2017) Force Measurements for Cancer Cells. Methods Mol Biol 1530:195-228
Farrell, Brenda; Qian, Feng; Kolomeisky, Anatoly et al. (2013) Measuring forces at the leading edge: a force assay for cell motility. Integr Biol (Camb) 5:204-14