Cell adhesion to the extracellular matrix (ECM) is highly active and plays a crucial role in various physiological functions. The active response of cells to physicochemical cues has been universally discovered in multiple microenvironments. However, the mechanisms to rule these active behaviors of cells are still poorly understood. Here, we establish an active model to probe the biomechanical mechanisms governing cell adhesion. The framework of cells is modeled as a tensional integrity that is maintained by cytoskeletons and extracellular matrices. Active movement of the cell model is self-driven by its intrinsic tendency to intracellular tensioning, defined as tensioning-taxis in this study. Tensioning-taxis is quantified as driving potential to actuate cell adhesion, and the traction forces are solved by our proposed numerical method of local free energy adaptation. The modeling results account for the active adhesion of cells with dynamic protruding of leading edge and power-law development of mechanical properties. Furthermore, the morphogenesis of cells evolves actively depending on actin filaments alignments by a predicted mechanism of scaling and directing traction forces. The proposed model provides a quantitative way to investigate the active mechanisms of cell adhesion and holds the potential to guide studies of more complex adhesion and motion of cells coupled with multiple external cues.
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