Constructing physical models of living cells and tissues is an extremely challenging task because of the high complexities of both intra- and intercellular processes. In addition, the force that a single cell generates vanishes in total due to the law of action and reaction. The typical mechanics of cell crawling involve periodic changes in the cell shape and in the adhesion characteristics of the cell to the substrate. However, the basic physical mechanisms by which a single cell coordinates these processes cooperatively to achieve autonomous migration are not yet well understood. To obtain a clearer grasp of how the intracellular force is converted to directional motion, we develop a basic mechanochemical model of a crawling cell based on subcellular elements with the focus on the dependence of the protrusion and contraction as well as the adhesion and de-adhesion processes on intracellular biochemical signals. By introducing reaction-diffusion equations that reproduce traveling waves of local chemical concentrations, we clarify that the chemical dependence of the cell-substrate adhesion dynamics determines the crawling direction and distance with one chemical wave. Finally, we also perform multipole analysis of the traction force to compare it with the experimental results. Our present work sheds light on how intracellular chemical reactions are converted to a directional cell migration under the force-free condition. Although the detailed mechanisms of actual cells are far more complicated than our simple model, we believe that this mechanochemical model is a good prototype for more realistic models.
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