Cristian L. Marchant, Abdul N. Malmi-Kakkada, Jaime A. Espina & Elias H. Barriga
Embryogenesis, tissue repair and cancer metastasis rely on collective cell migration. In vitro studies propose that cells are stiffer while migrating in stiff substrates, but softer when plated in compliant surfaces which are typically considered as non-permissive for migration. Here we show that cells within clusters from embryonic tissue dynamically decrease their stiffness in response to the temporal stiffening of their native substrate to initiate collective cell migration. Molecular and mechanical perturbations of embryonic tissues reveal that this unexpected mechanical response involves a mechanosensitive pathway relying on Piezo1-mediated microtubule deacetylation. We further show that decreasing microtubule acetylation and consequently cluster stiffness is sufficient to trigger collective cell migration in soft non-permissive substrates. This suggests that reaching an optimal cluster-to-substrate stiffness ratio is essential to trigger the onset of this collective process. Overall, these in vivo findings challenge the current understanding of collective cell migration and its physiological and pathological roles.