Single cell migration

Introduction to cell migration

Cells in the human body can migrate for a wide variety of reasons, including embryonic tissue formation, tissue growth and remodeling, wound healing, immune response, and more1. The underlying mechanism for cell migration can be described as directed remodeling of the cytoskeleton and the cell adhesions to the extracellular matrix, which effectively results in cell motility1. Cell migration can be roughly divided into two modes: collective migration and single cell migration. Collective migration is predominantly related to wound healing (please refer to the corresponding articles for more information about this topic: (1) Wound healing assay application page; (2) Wound healing assay: what, why and how; (3) Wound healing assays: discussing subtypes of cell removal assays; (4) Cell migration: cell outgrowth assays). Single cell migration has a physiological role in, for instance, tissue remodeling2 and the immune response3, but it can also have a pathological role through inflammation or cancer metastasis4, where the latter generally transits into tissue invasion rather than migration5. In order to gain an understanding of these physiological and pathological processes, fundamental research on single cell migration and motility is required.


Researchers can easily monitor and analyze single-cell migration with both, fluorescence imaging system Lux3 FL and brightfield imaging system Lux3 BR.


Assays to study single cell migration

Various platforms have been designed to evoke and/or visualize single cell movement in a culture vessel. In the Boyden chamber (also referred to as the trans-well chamber), cells are seeded in the top compartment, and a chemoattractant is added to the culture medium in the bottom compartment. This stimulates the migration of cells through the membrane separating both compartments6. Since the cells migrate perpendicularly to the bottom of the culture vessel, tracking migration over time is challenging and requires a microscope with very specific optical properties. Otherwise, only end-point measurements can be performed with this platform7. Many microfluidic chips have been designed following the same principle as the Boyden chamber but with the cell compartment and chemoattractant compartment aligned parallel to the culture vessel surface7,8. Provided that the quality of acquired images is sufficient, these platforms facilitate cell tracking over time. Also in regular culture vessels, cell migration can be tracked when imaging with sufficient quality9. However, cells generally require an environmental cue (e.g. chemotaxis, durotaxis, substrate alignment) for directed cell migration10, which should be implemented in the culture vessel.

The common denominator in these assays is that the image quality of cell monitoring should be sufficient to enable accurate cell tracking over time and provide detailed fundamental insight into cell migration.

CytoSMART Lux3 BR: high-quality imaging for cell migration monitoring

The CytoSMART Lux3 BR is a live-cell imaging device that provides image quality suitable for accurate cell migration tracking. With the Lux3 BR Duo Kit or Multi Lux3 BR, the live-cell imaging setup can be expanded to two or four devices, respectively. This enables simultaneous imaging and cell tracking for multiple experimental conditions. Using the Lux3 BR Duo Kit, chemotactic migration of HeLa cells towards a higher fetal bovine serum (FBS) concentration in a chemotaxis chip was tracked (Figure 1). The high image quality provided accurate cell tracking without requiring extra image processing steps. Besides that, the large focus range and image resolution of the Lux3 BR enabled cell migration tracking in a Boyden chamber.

Figure 1 | Side-by-side tracking of chemotactic HeLa cell migration. HeLa cells were seeded in the Ibidi µ-Slide Chemotaxis, with either 20% FBS in one reservoir and 0% FBS in the other, or 10% FBS in both reservoirs. High-quality images were acquired using the Lux3 BR Duo Kit, enabling single cells to be tracked with FIJI-plugin TrackMate (pink; tracked paths in yellow), as well as a direct comparison of the experimental groups. The total covered distance was smaller with the FBS gradient, but those cells displayed a preference to migrate towards the higher FBS concentration.

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