Mechanical interactions among followers determine the emergence of leaders in migrating epithelial cell collectives
Authors: Vishwakarma M, Di Russo J, Probst D, Schwarz US, Das T, Spatz JP
CellNetworks People: Schwarz Ulrich, Spatz Joachim
Journal: Nat Commun. 2018 Aug 27;9(1):3469. doi: 10.1038/s41467-018-05927-6

Regulating the emergence of leaders is a central aspect of collective cell migration, but the underlying mechanisms remain ambiguous. Here we show that the selective emergence of leader cells at the epithelial wound-margin depends on the dynamics of the follower cells and is spatially limited by the length-scale of collective force transduction. Owing to the dynamic heterogeneity of the monolayer, cells behind the prospective leaders manifest locally increased traction and monolayer stresses much before these leaders display any phenotypic traits. Followers, in turn, pull on the future leaders to elect them to their fate. Once formed, the territory of a leader can extend only to the length up-to which forces are correlated, which is similar to the length up-to which leader cells can transmit forces. These findings provide mechanobiological insight into the hierarchy in cell collectives during epithelial wound healing.