Cell migration is central to a multitude of physiological processes, including embryonic development, immune surveillance, and wound healing, and deregulated migration is key to cancer dissemination. Decades of investigations have uncovered many of the molecular and physical mechanisms underlying cell migration. Together with protrusion extension and cell body retraction, adhesion to the substrate via specific focal adhesion points has long been considered an essential step in cell migration. Although this is true for cells moving on two-dimensional substrates, recent studies have demonstrated that focal adhesions are not required for cells moving in three dimensions, in which confinement is sufficient to maintain a cell in contact with its substrate. Here, we review the investigations that have led to challenging the requirement of specific adhesions for migration, discuss the physical mechanisms proposed for cell body translocation during focal adhesion–independent migration, and highlight the remaining open questions for the future.


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