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Cell Migration during Development

  1. Tom Van Nieuwenhuysen1,
  2. Kris Vleminckx1,2

Published Online: 17 MAR 2014

DOI: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0020864.pub2



How to Cite

Van Nieuwenhuysen, T. and Vleminckx, K. 2014. Cell Migration during Development. eLS. .

Author Information

  1. 1

    Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium

  2. 2

    Ghent University Hospital, Ghent, Belgium

  1. Based in part on the previous version of this eLS article ‘Cell Migration during Development’ (2008) by Ellen Crabbe and Kris Vleminckx.

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 17 MAR 2014


Cell migration is essential during the establishment of a three-dimensional and multilayered organism. These migratory processes are highly coordinated both in time and space through various intercellular and cell–substrate interactions. Cells, moving either individually or as cohorts, use specific permissive, restrictive, attractive or repulsive guidance cues in their surroundings to move to their final destinations. These cues, which are mostly dynamic, induce specific intracellular responses in the receiving cells and often have direct effects on the cytoskeleton. These signals result in the acquisition of motile behaviour and allow detachment from the surrounding cells or tissue. They further lead to the establishment of cell or tissue polarity and induce directionality in the migration. The molecular nature of the guidance cues during embryonic, larval and foetal development is often analogous in diverse settings of cell migration.

Key Concepts:

  • Cells follow specific migration routes during development.

  • Cells can migrate either individually or in groups.

  • Surrounding guidance cues guide the migrating cells.

  • Guidance cues can be restrictive versus permissive and attractive versus repulsive.

  • Guidance cues induce specific intracellular signalling responses.

  • Intracellular polarity defines the direction of migration.

  • Collective migration requires molecular interactions between the migrating cells.

  • Contact inhibition of locomotion affects the coordinated motile behaviour of cranial neural crest cells.


  • pathfinding;
  • chemotaxis;
  • morphogenetic movements;
  • germ cell migration;
  • neural crest cells