LMCB - MRC Laboratory for Molecular Cell Biology

Ewa Paluch's picture

LMCB Group Leader, UCL Professor of Cell Biophysics, IPLS Chair

+44 (0)20 7679 7901
LMCB Room 2.01

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Biophysics of Cell Shape

Research Synopsis

The cell cortex is a network of actin, myosin and associated proteins that lies under the plasma membrane and determines the shape of most animal cells. The cortex enables the cell to resist externally applied stresses and to exert mechanical work. As such, it plays a role in normal physiology during events involving cell deformation such as mitosis, cytokinesis, and cell locomotion, and in the pathophysiology of diseases such as cancer where cortical contractility is upregulated. Despite its importance, little is known about how the cortex is assembled and regulated.
As the cortex is an intrinsically mechanical structure - its biological activity results from its ability to contract and to exert forces - its physiological properties cannot be understood in isolation from its mechanics. The main focus of the group is to understand how these mechanical properties are determined by the molecular components of the cortex and how these properties are regulated, locally and globally, to drive cellular deformations, particularly during cytokinesis and migration. We combine cell biology, quantitative imaging and physical modelling to investigate:
  • The regulation of the architecture of the cortical network and of the resulting cellular mechanical properties
  • The role of cortex mechanics during cell shape changes, particularly during cytokinesis and migration
  • The formation and function of different protrusion types (blebs and lamellipodia) during migration in vivo and in 3-dimensionnal environments
  • The role and regulation of cortex mechanics during cell fate changes in stem cells


Selected Publications

Koenderink GH & Paluch EK (2018). Architecture shapes contractility in actomyosin networks. Curr Op Cell Biol. 50:79-85.    
Chugh P, et al (2017). Actin cortex architecture regulates cell surface tension. Nature Cell Biology, 19, 689-697.
Chalut KJ & Paluch EK (2016). The Actin Cortex: A Bridge between Cell Shape and Function. Developmental Cell, 38, 571-573.
Bergert M, et al (2015). Force transmission during adhesion-independent migration. Nature Cell Biology, 17, 524-529.
Bovellan M, et al (2014). Cellular control of cortical actin nucleation. Curr Biol, 24:1628-1635. 


Medical Research Council
Wellcome Trust
European Research Council
Human Frontiers Science Project
European Commission Horizon 2020
The Leverhulme Trust

Research Themes

Cytoskeleton and cell cortex, Polarity and cell shape, Cell-cell interactions, Biophysics


Super-resolution microscopy, Light Microscopy, Electron Microscopy


Mali Perera (Lab Manager/Research Assistant)
Meghan Agnew (Research Assistant)
Irene Aspalter (Postdoctoral Fellow)
Dani Bodor (Postdoctoral Fellow)
Agathe Chaigne (Postdoctoral Fellow)
Murielle Serres (Postdoctoral Fellow)
Binh An Truong Quang (Postdoctoral Fellow)
Wolfram Poenisch (Research Associate)
Davide Cassani (PhD Student)
Henry de Belly (PhD Student)
Neza Vadnjal (PhD student)


Jemima Burden (LMCB, UK)
Ricardo Henriques (LMCB, UK)
Jason Mercer (LMCB, UK)
Guillaume Charras (LCN, UCL, UK)
Guillaume Salbreux (Francis Crick Institute, UK)
Guillaume Romet-Lemonne (IJM, France)
Philippe Roux (IRIC,  Canada)
Kevin Chalut (Stem Cell Institute, Cambridge, UK)
Jenny Nichols (University of Cambridge, UK)
Ohad Medalia (University of Zurich, Switzerland)