For innate and adaptive immune responses it is essential that inflammatory cells use quick and flexible locomotion strategies. Accordingly, most leukocytes can efficiently infiltrate and traverse almost every physiological or artificial environment. Here, we review how leukocytes might achieve this task mechanistically, and summarize recent findings on the principles of cytoskeletal force generation and transduction at the leading edge of leukocytes. We propose a model in which the cells switch between adhesion-receptor-mediated force transmission and locomotion modes that are based on cellular deformations, but independent of adhesion receptors. This plasticity in migration strategies allows leukocytes to adapt to the geometry and molecular composition of their environment.
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