Shapes, motions, and forces developed in lamellipodia and ruffles at the leading edges of primary chick embryo heart fibroblasts were characterized by differential interference contrast microscopy and digital video enhancement techniques. The initial extension of the cell edge to form a thin, planar lamellipodium parallel to the substrate surface was analyzed in two dimensions with temporal and spatial resolution of 3 s and 0.2 micron, respectively. An extension begins and ends with brief, rapid acceleration and deceleration separated by a long period of nearly constant velocity in the range of 4-7 microns/min. Extensions and retractions were initiated randomly over time. As demonstrated by optical sectioning microscopy, the extended lamellipodia formed ruffles by sharply bending upward at hinge points 2-4 microns behind their tips. Surprisingly, ruffles continued to grow in length at the same average rate after bending upward. They maintained a straight shape in vertical cross section, suggesting the ruffles were mechanically stiff. The forces required to bend ruffles of these cells and of BC3H1 cells were measured by pushing a thin quartz fishpole probe against the tip of a ruffle 7-10 microns from its base either toward or away from the center of the cell. Force was determined by measuring the bending of the probe monitored by video microscopy. Typically the probe forced the ruffle to swing rigidly in an arc about an apparent hinge at is base, and ruffles rapidly, and almost completely, recovered their shape when the probe was removed. Hence, ruffles appeared to be relatively stiff and to resist bending with forces more elastic than viscous, unlike the cell body. Ruffles on both types of cells resisted bending with forces of 15-30 mudyn/microns of displacement at their tips when pushed toward or away from the cell center. The significance of the observations for mechanisms of cell locomotion is discussed.

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