Cell spreading is regulated by signaling from the integrin receptors that activate intracellular signaling pathways to control actin filament regulatory proteins. We developed a hybrid model of whole-cell spreading in which we modeled the integrin signaling network as ordinary differential equations in multiple compartments, and cell spreading as a three-dimensional stochastic model. The computed activity of the signaling network, represented as time-dependent activity levels of the actin filament regulatory proteins, is used to drive the filament dynamics. We analyzed the hybrid model to understand the role of signaling during the isotropic phase of fibroblasts spreading on fibronectin-coated surfaces. Simulations showed that the isotropic phase of spreading depends on integrin signaling to initiate spreading but not to maintain the spreading dynamics. Simulations predicted that signal flow in the absence of Cdc42 or WASP would reduce the spreading rate but would not affect the shape evolution of the spreading cell. These predictions were verified experimentally. Computational analyses showed that the rate of spreading and the evolution of cell shape are largely controlled by the membrane surface load and membrane bending rigidity, and changing information flow through the integrin signaling network has little effect. Overall, the plasma membrane acts as a damper such that only ~5% of the actin dynamics capability is needed for isotropic spreading. Thus, the biophysical properties of the plasma membrane can condense varying levels of signaling network activities into a single cohesive macroscopic cellular behavior.
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