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Roles of Ion Transport in Control of Cell Motility

  1. Christian Stock,
  2. Florian T. Ludwig,
  3. Peter J. Hanley,
  4. Albrecht Schwab

Published Online: 1 JAN 2013

DOI: 10.1002/cphy.c110056

Comprehensive Physiology

Comprehensive Physiology

How to Cite

Stock, C., Ludwig, F. T., Hanley, P. J. and Schwab, A. 2013. Roles of Ion Transport in Control of Cell Motility. Comprehensive Physiology. 3:59–119.

Author Information

  1. Institute of Physiology II, University of Münster, Münster, Germany

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 1 JAN 2013


Cell motility is an essential feature of life. It is essential for reproduction, propagation, embryonic development, and healing processes such as wound closure and a successful immune defense. If out of control, cell motility can become life-threatening as, for example, in metastasis or autoimmune diseases. Regardless of whether ciliary/flagellar or amoeboid movement, controlled motility always requires a concerted action of ion channels and transporters, cytoskeletal elements, and signaling cascades. Ion transport across the plasma membrane contributes to cell motility by affecting the membrane potential and voltage-sensitive ion channels, by inducing local volume changes with the help of aquaporins and by modulating cytosolic Ca2+ and H+ concentrations. Voltage-sensitive ion channels serve as voltage detectors in electric fields thus enabling galvanotaxis; local swelling facilitates the outgrowth of protrusions at the leading edge while local shrinkage accompanies the retraction of the cell rear; the cytosolic Ca2+ concentration exerts its main effect on cytoskeletal dynamics via motor proteins such as myosin or dynein; and both, the intracellular and the extracellular H+ concentration modulate cell migration and adhesion by tuning the activity of enzymes and signaling molecules in the cytosol as well as the activation state of adhesion molecules at the cell surface. In addition to the actual process of ion transport, both, channels and transporters contribute to cell migration by being part of focal adhesion complexes and/or physically interacting with components of the cytoskeleton. The present article provides an overview of how the numerous ion-transport mechanisms contribute to the various modes of cell motility. © 2013 American Physiological Society. Compr Physiol 3:59-119, 2013.