Int. J. Dev. Biol. 62: 5 - 13 (2018)
doi: 10.1387/ijdb.170277rm
© UPV/EHU Press

Michael Abercrombie: contact inhibition of locomotion and more

Alice Roycroft and Roberto Mayor*

Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, University College London, Gower Street, London, UK.

ABSTRACT Michael Abercrombie is regarded as one of the principal pioneers of cell biology. Although Abercrombie began his career as an experimental embryologist, working on the avian organizer with C. H. Waddington, questions on how cells in culture migrate and interact dominated his career. Whilst studying the social behaviour of chick heart embryonic fibroblasts, Abercrombie identified a phenomenon whereby colliding cells collapse their protrusions towards the cell-cell contact upon a collision, preventing their continued migration. The cells then form protrusions away from the contact and, space permitting, migrate away from each other. This behaviour is now referred to as ‘contact inhibition of locomotion’ and has been identified within embryology as the driving force behind the directional migration of the neural crest and the dispersion patterning of haemocytes and Cajal-Retzius neurons. Furthermore, its loss between collisions of cancer cells and healthy cells is associated with metastasis. In this review we begin with an overview of Abercrombie’s life and highlight some of his key publications. We then discuss Abercrombie’s discovery of contact inhibition of locomotion, the roles which cell-cell adhesions, cell-matrix adhesions and the cytoskeleton play in facilitating this phenomenon, and the importance of contact inhibition of locomotion within the living organism.

Keywords:

Abercrombie, contact inhibition of locomotion, cell migration, cancer

*Corresponding author e-mail: r.mayor@ucl.ac.uk