Some cells live a fast-paced life, traveling far and wide. Others are more sedentary and stay closer to home. Ou and Vale now report molecular differences that underlie these lifestyle choices.

Cell migration studies in living multicellular organisms are not easy. Ou and Vale used spinning disc confocal microscopy—a technique that allows fine focusing and rapid image capture—to follow the paths of individual fluorescent cells in the bodies of worms. Images were captured from up to 10 worms at once over a period of hours, and the microscope automatically moved to specific focal points for each cell in each worm. Because the worms (and cells) were alive and moving, however, Ou had to readjust the focal points every 15 minutes or so.

The cells of interest were neuroblasts, which are known to vary in their migration distances. The authors now report that these cells also vary in their speed, and faster cells ultimately go farther.

Compared with their sluggish sisters, fast cells boosted their levels of a cytoskeletal regulator, lowered their levels of an extracellular matrix attachment factor, or did both. Essentially, they revved the engine and/or took off the brakes.

The team now plans to use its microscopy setup to investigate how neuroblasts move in multiple cell migration mutants.

J. Cell Biol.
doi: .