Collective cellular migration within the epithelial layer impacts upon development, wound healing and cancer invasion, but remains poorly understood. Prevailing conceptual frameworks tend to focus on the isolated role of each particular underlying factor – taken one at a time or at most a few at a time – and thus might not be tailored to describe a cellular collective that embodies a wide palette of physical and molecular interactions that are both strong and complex. To bridge this gap, we shift the spotlight to the emerging concept of cell jamming, which points to only a small set of parameters that govern when a cellular collective might jam and rigidify like a solid, or instead unjam and flow like a fluid. As gateways to cellular migration, the unjamming transition (UJT) and the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) share certain superficial similarities, but their congruence – or lack thereof – remains unclear. In this Commentary, we discuss aspects of cell jamming, its established role in human epithelial cell layers derived from the airways of non-asthmatic and asthmatic donors, and its speculative but emerging roles in development and cancer cell invasion.
- © 2016. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd