Time-lapsed films of particle motion on the leading lamella of chick heart fibroblasts and mouse peritoneal macrophages were analyzed. The particles were composed of powdered glass or powdered aminated polystyrene and were 0.5-1.0 micrometer in radius. Particle motions were described by steps in position from one frame to the time-lapse movies to the next. The statistics of the step-size distribution of the particles were consistent with a particle in Brownian motion subject to a constant force. From the Brownian movement, we have calculated the two-dimensional diffusion coefficient of different particles. These vary by more than an order of magnitude (10(-11)-10(-10) cm2/s) even for particles composed of the same material and located very close to each other on the surface of the cell. This variation was not correlated with particle size but is interpretable as a result of different numbers of adhesive bonds holding the particles to the cells. The constant component of particle movement can be interpreted as a result of a constant force acting on each particle (0.1-1.0 x 10(-8) dyn). Variations in the fractional coefficient for particles close to each other on the cell surface do not yield corresponding differences in velocity, suggesting that the frictional coefficient and the driving force vary together. This is consistent with the hypothesis that the particles are carried by flow of the membrane as a whole or by flow of some submembrane material. The utility of our methods for monitoring cell motile behavior in biologically interesting situations, such as a chemotactic gradient, is discussed.

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