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Prof Daniel Cohen

Princeton University

Cellular Herding: programming collective cell migration in living tissues using bioelectric cues

Collective cell migration, arising from the complex choreography between cell-substrate and cell-cell forces, ultimately underlies key processes in morphogenesis, healing, and even pathogenesis. Given such importance, the ability to interactively ‘herd’ collective migration would offer new possibilities in the study and control of cell migration. Accomplishing such control requires a broadly applicable, programmable, and powerful cue capable of directing migration. Electrotaxis—the directed migration of cells along DC electric field gradients—is just such a cue. In vivo, endogenous electric fields on the order of 1 V/cm arise due to ion imbalances such as occur during wounding, and simulating such fields in vitro is known to direct cell migration. A major thrust in our lab is to better understand and harness electrotaxis to control collective migration. We recently developed SCHEEPDOG, a new electro-bioreactor that allows us to use electrotaxis to not only set the speed of large-scale collective migration (up to a 4X increase), but also to literally program sequences of collective cell migration to produce arbitrary 2D maneuvers in living tissues. Such cellular herding is strongly affected by the endogenous cell-cell and cell-substrate adhesion in a given tissue, and modulating such adhesion has allowed us to program millimeter-scale ‘supracellular’ migration in primary keratinocyte monolayers. This seminar will introduce key concepts in electrotaxis as a phenomenon, present new data from the lab demonstrating its use in living tissues, and discuss how any cellular researcher can easily make a DIY electro-bioreactor like SCHEEPDOG to study directed cell migration.

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