Learning that cells can use their nuclei like pistons to move



The controlled movement of cells through complex, three-dimensional tissues is essential for human health. A moving cell can undergo dramatic changes in size and shape, suggesting that cells may use more than one molecular mechanism to migrate in the body, but understanding of how healthy and diseased cells move was limited. 


IRP researchers led by Kenneth M. Yamada, M.D., Ph.D., pioneered the measurement of pressure inside single human cells and discovered a new mechanism of cell movement. The team found that normal human cells such as fibroblasts can use their nucleus like a piston to pressurize the cell and subsequently produce a force that is strong enough to push the cell through three-dimensional environments.


Characterizing types of cell migration in normal tissue remodeling, wound repair, and cancer invasion, including the new nuclear piston mechanism, will likely help identify new therapeutic targets for a large number of cell movement-related diseases.


Petrie, RJ, Koo, H, and Yamada, KM. (2014). Generation of compartmentalized pressure by a nuclear piston governs cell motility in a 3D matrix. Science. 345(6200), 1062-1065.