Hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) induces cell migration and scattering by mechanisms that are thought to tip a local balance of competing physical forces; cell-To-cell and cell-To-substrate forces. In this local process, HGF is known to attenuate local cadherin-dependent adhesion forces for cell-cell junction development and enhance local integrin-dependent contractile forces for pulling neighboring cells apart. Here we use an expanding island of confluent Madin-Darby canine kidney (MDCK) cells as a model system to quantify the collective cell migration. In the absence of HGF, cell trajectories are highly tortuous whereas in the presence of HGF, they become far less so, resembling free expansion of a gas. At the level of cell-To-cell junctions, HGF attenuates the linkage of stress fibers to cell-To-cell junctions with concomitant decrease in intercellular stress. At the level of cell-To-substrate junctions, HGF augments the linkage of stress fibers to cell-To-substrate junctions with no apparent effect on traction. Together, HGF induces both structural changes in the actin-bound junctional protein complex and physical forces spanning multicellular clusters, which further promotes the expansion of confluent cellular layer.
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