The role of vimentin-nuclear interactions in persistent cell motility through confined spaces

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9 Scopus citations


The ability of cells to move through small spaces depends on the mechanical properties of the cellular cytoskeleton and on nuclear deformability. In mammalian cells, the cytoskeleton is composed of three interacting, semi-flexible polymer networks: actin, microtubules, and intermediate filaments (IF). Recent experiments of mouse embryonic fibroblasts with and without vimentin have shown that the IF vimentin plays a role in confined cell motility. Here, we develop a minimal model of a cell moving through a microchannel that incorporates explicit effects of actin and vimentin and implicit effects of microtubules. Specifically, the model consists of a cell with an actomyosin cortex and a deformable cell nucleus and mechanical linkages between the two. By decreasing the amount of vimentin, we find that the cell speed increases for vimentin-null cells compared to cells with vimentin. The loss of vimentin increases nuclear deformation and alters nuclear positioning in the cell. Assuming nuclear positioning is a read-out for cell polarity, we propose a new polarity mechanism which couples cell directional motion with cytoskeletal strength and nuclear positioning and captures the abnormally persistent motion of vimentin-null cells, as observed in experiments. The enhanced persistence indicates that the vimentin-null cells are more controlled by the confinement and so less autonomous, relying more heavily on external cues than their wild-type counterparts. Our modeling results present a quantitative interpretation for recent experiments and have implications for understanding the role of vimentin in the epithelial-mesenchymal transition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number093042
JournalNew Journal of Physics
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2021


  • cell motility in confinement
  • cell nucleus
  • cell polarity in confinement
  • cytoskeleton
  • vimentin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Physics and Astronomy


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