JoVE Logo
Faculty Resource Center

Sign In





Representative Results






Quantitative Analysis of Cell Edge Dynamics during Cell Spreading

Published: May 22nd, 2021



1Department of Cell and Systems Biology, University of Toronto
* These authors contributed equally

In this protocol, we present the experimental procedures of a cell spreading assay that is based on live-cell microscopy. We provide an open-source computational tool for the unbiased segmentation of fluorescently labeled cells and quantitative analysis of lamellipodia dynamics during cell spreading.

Cell spreading is a dynamic process in which a cell suspended in media attaches to a substrate and flattens itself from a rounded to a thin and spread-out shape. Following the cell-substrate attachment, the cell forms a thin sheet of lamellipodia emanating from the cell body. In the lamellipodia, globular actin (G-actin) monomers polymerize into a dense filamentous actin (F-actin) meshwork that pushes against the plasma membrane, thereby providing the mechanical forces required for the cell to spread. Notably, the molecular players that control the actin polymerization in lamellipodia are essential for many other cellular processes, such as cell migration and endocytosis.

Since spreading cells form continuous lamellipodia that span the entire cell periphery and persistently expand outward, cell spreading assays have become an efficient tool to assess the kinetics of lamellipodial protrusions. Although several technical implementations of the cell spreading assay have been developed, a detailed description of the workflow, which would include both a step-by-step protocol and computational tools for data analysis, is currently lacking. Here, we describe the experimental procedures of the cell spreading assay and present an open-source tool for quantitative and unbiased analysis of cell edge dynamics during spreading. When combined with pharmacological manipulations and/or gene-silencing techniques, this protocol is amenable to a large-scale screen of molecular players regulating lamellipodial protrusions.

Lamellipodial protrusions are prominent cytoskeletal structures formed at the front of a migrating cell. In lamellipodia, polymerization of actin with the aid of the Arp2/3 complex and formins creates a fast-growing branched actin meshwork that pushes against the plasma membrane1,2. The pushing force generated by the actin meshwork physically propels the cell forward1,3,4,5. Depletion of the Arp2/3 complex or disruption of signaling pathways essential for lamellipodial protrusio....

Log in or to access full content. Learn more about your institution’s access to JoVE content here

1. Cell Seeding

NOTE: The described cell spreading protocol was performed using mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs) expressing PH-Akt-GFP (a fluorescent marker for PIP3/PI(3,4)P2). This cell line was generated by genomically integrating an expression construct for PH-Akt-GFP (Addgene #21218) by CRISPR-mediated gene editing. However, other fluorescent markers that are expressed transiently or integrated in the genome can also be used in this assay. For optimal image segmentat.......

Log in or to access full content. Learn more about your institution’s access to JoVE content here

The above protocol describes the experimental procedures for the live-cell imaging of spreading cells and a computational tool for the quantitative analysis of cell spreading dynamics. The computational tool can be used in a low- or high-throughput format to identify the molecular players regulating the actin polymerization machinery at the cell leading edge.

The schematic representation of the experimental procedures is depicted in Figure 1. The cell spreading as.......

Log in or to access full content. Learn more about your institution’s access to JoVE content here

The described cell spreading assay allows for the continuous tracking of morphological changes (e.g., cell size and shape) and cell edge movements (i.e., protrusion speed and retraction frequency), which are features missing in most cell spreading protocols19,24. While commonly used end-point cell spreading assays allow for the determination of cell spreading speed, these assays fail to resolve the temporal dynamics of cell edge movements. The l.......

Log in or to access full content. Learn more about your institution’s access to JoVE content here

This work was supported by the Connaught Fund New Investigator Award to S.P., Canada Foundation for Innovation, NSERC Discovery Grant Program (grants RGPIN-2015-05114 and RGPIN-2020-05881), University of Manchester and University of Toronto Joint Research Fund, and University of Toronto XSeed Program.


Log in or to access full content. Learn more about your institution’s access to JoVE content here

Name Company Catalog Number Comments
0.05% Trypsin (0.05%), 0.53 mM EDTA Wisent Bioproducts 325-042-CL
10.0 cm Petri Dish, Polystyrene, TC Treated, Vented Starstedt 83.3902
15 mL High Clarity PP Centrifuge Tube, Conical Bottom, with Dome Seal Screw Cap, Sterile Falcon 352097
1-Well Chamlide CMS for 22 mm x 22 mm Coverslip Quorum Technologies CM-S22-1
35 mm TC-treated Easy-Grip Style Cell Culture Dish Falcon 353001
50 mL Centrifuge Tube, Transparent, Plug Seal Nest 602002
6.0 cm Cell Culture Dishes Treated for Increased Cell Attachment, Sterile VWR 10861-658
Arp2/3 Complex Inhibitor I, CK-666 Millipore Sigma 182515
Camera, Prime 95B-25MM Photometrics
Dimethyl Sulfoxide, Sterile BioShop DMS666
DMEM, 1x, 4.5 g/L Glucose, with L-Glutamine, Sodium Pyruvate and Phenol Red Wisent Bioproducts 319-005 CL
DMEM/F-12, HEPES, No Phenol Red Gibco 11039021
D-PBS, 1X Wisent Bioproducts 311-425 CL
Fetal Bovine Serum Wisent Bioproducts 080-110
Fiji Software ImageJ
HEPES (1 M) Gibco 15630080
Human Plasma Fibronectin Purified Protein 1 mg Millipore Sigma FC010
Immersion Oil Cargille 16241
L-Glutamine Solution (200 mM) Wisent Bioproducts 609-065-EL
MEM Non-Essential Amino Acids Solution (100X) Gibco 11140050
Micro Cover Glasses, Square, No. 11/2 22 x 22 mm VWR CA48366-227-1
Microscope Body, Eclipse Ti2-E Nikon
Objective, CFI Plan Apo Lambda 60X Oil Nikon MRD01605
Penicillin-Streptomycin Sigma P4333
Spinning Disk, Crest Light V2 CrestOptics
Spyder Anaconda
Stage top incubator Tokai Hit
Statistics Software, Prism GraphPad
Tweezers, Style 2 Electron Microscopy Sciences 78326-42

  1. Mullins, R. D., Heuser, J. A., Pollard, T. D. The interaction of Arp2/3 complex with actin: Nucleation, high affinity pointed end capping, and formation of branching networks of filaments. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 95 (11), 6181-6186 (1998).
  2. Yang, C., Czech, L., Gerboth, S., Kojima, S., Scita, G., Svitkina, T. Novel Roles of Formin mDia2 in Lamellipodia and Filopodia Formation in Motile Cells. PLoS Biology. 5 (11), 317 (2007).
  3. Mogilner, A., Oster, G. Cell motility driven by actin polymerization. Biophysical Journal. 71 (6), 3030-3045 (1996).
  4. Mogilner, A., Oster, G. Force Generation by Actin Polymerization II: The Elastic Ratchet and Tethered Filaments. Biophysical Journal. 84 (3), 1591-1605 (2003).
  5. Pollard, T. D., Borisy, G. G. Cellular Motility Driven by Assembly and Disassembly of Actin Filaments. Cell. 112 (4), 453-465 (2003).
  6. Wu, C., et al. Arp2/3 is critical for lamellipodia and response to extracellular matrix cues but is dispensable for chemotaxis. Cell. 148 (5), 973-987 (2012).
  7. Steffen, A., et al. Rac function is crucial for cell migration but is not required for spreading and focal adhesion formation. Journal of cell science. 126, 4572-4588 (2013).
  8. Gupton, S. L., et al. Cell migration without a lamellipodium. The Journal of Cell Biology. 168 (4), 619-631 (2005).
  9. Dimchev, V., et al. Induced Arp2/3 Complex Depletion Increases FMNL2/3 Formin Expression and Filopodia Formation. Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology. 9, 634708 (2021).
  10. Leithner, A., et al. Diversified actin protrusions promote environmental exploration but are dispensable for locomotion of leukocytes. Nature cell biology. 18 (11), 1253-1259 (2016).
  11. Giannone, G., Dubin-Thaler, B. J., Döbereiner, H. -. G., Kieffer, N., Bresnick, A. R., Sheetz, M. P. Periodic Lamellipodial Contractions Correlate with Rearward Actin Waves. Cell. 116 (3), 431-443 (2004).
  12. Dubin-Thaler, B. J., et al. Quantification of Cell Edge Velocities and Traction Forces Reveals Distinct Motility Modules during Cell Spreading. PLoS ONE. 3 (11), 3735 (2008).
  13. Suraneni, P., Rubinstein, B., Unruh, J. R., Durnin, M., Hanein, D., Li, R. The Arp2/3 complex is required for lamellipodia extension and directional fibroblast cell migration. The Journal of cell biology. 197 (2), 239-251 (2012).
  14. Wang, C., et al. Deconvolution of subcellular protrusion heterogeneity and the underlying actin regulator dynamics from live cell imaging. Nature Communications. 9 (1), 1688 (2018).
  15. Dimchev, G., et al. Lamellipodin tunes cell migration by stabilizing protrusions and promoting adhesion formation. Journal of cell science. 133 (7), 239020 (2020).
  16. Burnette, D. T., et al. A role for actin arcs in the leading-edge advance of migrating cells. Nature cell biology. 13 (4), 371-381 (2011).
  17. Yamada, K. M., Kennedy, D. W. Dualistic nature of adhesive protein function: fibronectin and its biologically active peptide fragments can autoinhibit fibronectin function. The Journal of Cell Biology. 99 (1), 29-36 (1984).
  18. Cai, Y., et al. Nonmuscle Myosin IIA-Dependent Force Inhibits Cell Spreading and Drives F-Actin Flow. Biophysical Journal. 91 (10), 3907-3920 (2006).
  19. Humphries, M. J. Cell adhesion assays. Molecular Biotechnology. 18 (1), 57-61 (2001).
  20. Cavalcanti-Adam, E. A., Volberg, T., Micoulet, A., Kessler, H., Geiger, B., Spatz, J. P. Cell Spreading and Focal Adhesion Dynamics Are Regulated by Spacing of Integrin Ligands. Biophysical Journal. 92 (8), 2964-2974 (2007).
  21. Dubin-Thaler, B. J., Giannone, G., Döbereiner, H. -. G., Sheetz, M. P. Nanometer Analysis of Cell Spreading on Matrix-Coated Surfaces Reveals Two Distinct Cell States and STEPs. Biophysical Journal. 86 (3), 1794-1806 (2004).
  22. Gauthier, N. C., Fardin, M. A., Roca-Cusachs, P., Sheetz, M. P. Temporary increase in plasma membrane tension coordinates the activation of exocytosis and contraction during cell spreading. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 108 (35), 14467-14472 (2011).
  23. Wolfenson, H., Iskratsch, T., Sheetz, M. P. Early Events in Cell Spreading as a Model for Quantitative Analysis of Biomechanical Events. Biophysical Journal. 107 (11), 2508-2514 (2014).
  24. Guan, J. -. L., Berrier, A. L., LaFlamme, S. E. Cell Migration, Developmental Methods and Protocols. Methods in molecular biology. 294, 55-68 (2004).
  25. Raucher, D., et al. Phosphatidylinositol 4,5-Bisphosphate Functions as a Second Messenger that Regulates Cytoskeleton-Plasma Membrane Adhesion. Cell. 100 (2), 221-228 (2000).
  26. Machacek, M., Danuser, G. Morphodynamic Profiling of Protrusion Phenotypes. Biophysical Journal. 90 (4), 1439-1452 (2006).
  27. Zack, G. W., Rogers, W. E., Latt, S. A. Automatic measurement of sister chromatid exchange frequency. The journal of histochemistry and cytochemistry official journal of the Histochemistry Society. 25 (7), 741-753 (1977).
  28. Bardsley, W. G., Aplin, J. D. Kinetic analysis of cell spreading. I. Theory and modelling of curves. Journal of cell science. 61, 365-373 (1983).

This article has been published

Video Coming Soon

JoVE Logo


Terms of Use





Copyright © 2024 MyJoVE Corporation. All rights reserved