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Quantitative mapping of averaged focal adhesion dynamics in migrating cells by shape normalization
Christoph Möhl, Norbert Kirchgessner, Claudia Schäfer, Bernd Hoffmann, Rudolf Merkel


The spatially ordered formation and disassembly of focal adhesions is a basic requirement for effective cell locomotion. Because focal adhesions couple the contractile actin–myosin network to the substrate, their distribution determines the pattern of traction forces propelling the cell in a certain direction. In the present study, we quantitatively analyzed the spatial patterning of cell–substrate adhesion in migrating cells by mapping averaged focal adhesion growth dynamics to a standardized cell coordinate system. These maps revealed distinct zones of focal adhesion assembly, disassembly and stability and were strongly interrelated with corresponding actin flow and traction force patterns. Moreover, the mapping technique enables precise detection of even minute responses of adhesion dynamics upon targeted signaling perturbations. For example, the partial inhibition of vinculin phosphorylation was followed by the reduced number of newly formed adhesions, whereas growth dynamics of existing adhesions remained unaffected.


  • * Present address: Image and Data Analysis Facility, DZNE Bonn, Germany

  • Present address: Institute of Agricultural Sciences, ETH Zürich, Switzerland

  • Present address: Department of Medicine, Boston School of Medicine, Boston, MA, USA

  • Funding

    This work was supported by the Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (BMBF) program [grant number 0315501].

  • Supplementary material available online at

  • Accepted July 25, 2011.
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