Subcellular mechano-regulation of cell migration in confined extracellular microenvironment

Daesan Kim, Dong Hwee Kim

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Cell migration is a highly coordinated cellular event that determines diverse physiological and pathological processes in which the continuous interaction of a migrating cell with neighboring cells or the extracellular matrix is regulated by the physical setting of the extracellular microenvironment. In confined spaces, cell migration occurs differently compared to unconfined open spaces owing to the additional forces that limit cell motility, which create a driving bias for cells to invade the confined space, resulting in a distinct cell motility process compared to what is expected in open spaces. Moreover, cells in confined environments can be subjected to elevated mechanical compression, which causes physical stimuli and activates the damage repair cycle in the cell, including the DNA in the nucleus. Although cells have a self-restoring system to repair damage from the cell membrane to the genetic components of the nucleus, this process may result in genetic and/or epigenetic alterations that can increase the risk of the progression of diverse diseases, such as cancer and immune disorders. Furthermore, there has been a shift in the paradigm of bioengineering from the development of new biomaterials to controlling biophysical cues and fine-tuning cell behaviors to cure damaged/diseased tissues. The external physical cues perceived by cells are transduced along the mechanosensitive machinery, which is further channeled into the nucleus through subcellular molecular linkages of the nucleoskeleton and cytoskeleton or the biochemical translocation of transcription factors. Thus, external cues can directly or indirectly regulate genetic transcriptional processes and nuclear mechanics, ultimately determining cell fate. In this review, we discuss the importance of the biophysical cues, response mechanisms, and mechanical models of cell migration in confined environments. We also discuss the effect of force-dependent deformation of subcellular components, specifically focusing on subnuclear organelles, such as nuclear membranes and chromosomal organization. This review will provide a biophysical perspective on cancer progression and metastasis as well as abnormal cellular proliferation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number041305
JournalBiophysics Reviews
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2023 Dec 1

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Author(s).

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Biotechnology
  • Bioengineering
  • Biomaterials


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