Integrative experimental/computational approach establishes active cellular protrusion as the primary driving force of phagocytic spreading by immune cells
The dynamic interplay between cell adhesion and protrusion is a critical determinant of many forms of cell motility. When modeling cell spreading on adhesive surfaces, traditional mathematical treatments often consider passive cell adhesion as the primary, if not exclusive, mechanistic driving force of this cellular motion. To better assess the contribution of active cytoskeletal protrusion to immune-cell spreading during phagocytosis, we here develop a computational framework that allows us to
... optionally investigate both purely adhesive spreading ("Brownian zipper hypothesis") as well as protrusion-dominated spreading ("protrusive zipper hypothesis"). We model the cell as an axisymmetric body of highly viscous fluid surrounded by a cortex with uniform surface tension and incorporate as potential driving forces of cell spreading an attractive stress due to receptor-ligand binding and an outward normal stress representing cytoskeletal protrusion, both acting on the cell boundary. We leverage various model predictions against the results of a directly related experimental companion study of human neutrophil phagocytic spreading on substrates coated with different densities of antibodies. We find that the concept of adhesion-driven spreading is incompatible with experimental results such as the independence of the cell-spreading speed on the density of immobilized antibodies. In contrast, the protrusive zipper model agrees well with experimental findings and, when adapted to simulate cell spreading on discrete adhesion sites, it also reproduces the observed positive correlation between antibody density and maximum cell-substrate contact area. Together, our integrative experimental/computational approach shows that phagocytic spreading is driven by cellular protrusion, and that the extent of spreading is limited by the density of adhesion sites.