Cell migration into neural tube lumen provides evidence for the “fixed cortex” theory of cell motility


  • Michael E. Bilozur,

    1. Department of Anatomy and Cellular Biology, Harvard Medical School, Boston
    Current affiliation:
    1. Department of Anatomy and Cellular Biology, Tufts Health Sciences Center, Boston, MA 02111
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  • Dr. Elizabeth D. Hay

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Anatomy and Cellular Biology, Harvard Medical School, Boston
    • Department of Anbatomy and Cellular Biology, Harvard Medical School, 220 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA 02115
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We present a model of cell motility based on emigration of neural crest cells into the neural tube lumen under in vitro conditions (10% fetal calf serum or YIGSR) that inhibit their normal emigration from the base of the neuroepithelium into surrounding extracellular matrix (ECM). Ultrastructural observations reveal that cells lining the lumen are joined by zonulae adherentes (ZA), which are points of strong intercellular attachment, and thereby serve as markers for fixed regions of plasmalemma and cortical actin. Three major observations of the relationship of cells to the ZA support the “fixed cortex” model of mesenchymal cell migration. First, cells extend apical cel processes past the ZA into the lumen. To do this, they must make new apical plasmalemma and actin corrtex that the endoplasm slides into. Second, elongated cells are observed in the lumen that are still attached via ZA to the neuroepithelium. This indicates that all of the endoplasm finally slides past the ZA. Third, numerous cytoplasmic pieces, often attached to each other and to the neuroepithelium via ZA, are found at the site where cells appear to have detached from the epithelium after entering the lumen. Since the ZA is fixed in location, the endoplasm must have slid past it into newly manufactured anterior cortex and plasmalemma, with the trailing end of the cell finally snapping off. The “fixed cortex” theory of cell migration agrees with existing data in that it predicts the polarized insertion of new plasmalemma and actin at the leading end of the cell, but it differs significantly from existing theories of mesenchymal cell migration in that it states that the cell surface remains firmly attached to the substratum while the myosin-rich endoplasm slides past it.