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White cells use paddling to move

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Leukocytes have a ubiquitous capacity to migrate on or in solid matrices and with or without adhesion, which is instrumental to fight infections. The precise mechanisms sustaining migration remain, however, arguable. It is for instance widely accepted that leukocytes cannot crawl on two-dimensional substrates without adhesion. In contrast, we showed that human lymphocytes swim on nonadherent two-dimensional substrates and in suspension.

Furthermore, our experiments and modeling suggest that propulsion hardly rely on cell body deformations and predominantly on molecular paddling by transmembrane proteins protruding outside the cell. For physics, this study reveals a new type of microswimmer, and for biology, it suggests that leukocyte’s ubiquitous crawling may have evolved from an early machinery of swimming shared by various eukaryotic cells.

Lymphocytes swim in free suspension.
Lymphocytes swim in free suspension.
(A) Schematic of the setup used to image swimming in suspension with a microscope tilted by 90° and a flow channel oriented vertically. (B) Sequence of images of a cell swimming in the center of the channel in the direction of the x axis. Scale bars, 20 μm

Amoeboid Swimming Is Propelled by Molecular Paddling in Lymphocytes, Biophys. J 2020
Laurene Aoun, Alexander Farutin, Nicolas Garcia-Seyda, Paulin Nègre, Mohd Suhail Rizvi, Sham Tlili, Solene Song, Xuan Luo, Martine Biarnes-Pelicot, Rémi Galland, Jean-Baptiste Sibarita, Alphée Michelo,t Claire Hivroz, Salima Rafai, Marie-Pierre Valignat, Chaouqi Misbah, Olivier Theodoly

(*) L’ensemble des partenaires :

  • Université Aix Marseille, CNRS, INSERM, LAI, Turing Centre for Living Systems, Marseille, France;
  • Université Grenoble Alpes, CNRS, LIPhy, Grenoble, France;
  • Institut Interdisciplinaire pour les Neurosciences, CNRS, Bordeaux, France;
  • Université Aix Marseille, CNRS, IBDM, Turing Centre for Living Systems, Marseille, France
  • Institut Curie, INSERM, PSL Research University, Paris, France

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