Anchorage-dependent Cells vs. Anchorage-independent Cells

What's the Difference?

Anchorage-dependent cells are a type of cells that require a surface or substrate to attach and grow. They rely on the physical contact with the extracellular matrix or neighboring cells for survival and proliferation. These cells exhibit a flattened morphology and have specific integrin receptors that facilitate their attachment to the substrate. On the other hand, anchorage-independent cells are capable of growing and proliferating in suspension, without the need for a surface or substrate. These cells can form aggregates or clusters in a three-dimensional environment and are not reliant on physical contact with the extracellular matrix or neighboring cells for survival. Anchorage-independent cells often have a rounded or spheroid shape and can be more resistant to apoptosis.


AttributeAnchorage-dependent CellsAnchorage-independent Cells
DefinitionCells that require attachment to a surface or substrate for growth and proliferation.Cells that can grow and proliferate without attachment to a surface or substrate.
GrowthDependent on the presence of a suitable surface or substrate for attachment.Not dependent on attachment to a surface or substrate for growth.
Cell ShapeTypically exhibit a flattened morphology when attached to a surface.Can exhibit a variety of shapes and morphologies, including rounded or suspended forms.
Cell AdhesionRequire cell adhesion molecules and integrins to attach to the extracellular matrix or other cells.May exhibit reduced or altered cell adhesion properties compared to anchorage-dependent cells.
Cell SignalingCell signaling pathways are influenced by attachment to a surface or substrate.Cell signaling pathways may be influenced by factors other than attachment to a surface or substrate.
Cell ProliferationCell proliferation is regulated by attachment to a surface or substrate.Cell proliferation may be regulated by factors other than attachment to a surface or substrate.
Cell MigrationMigration is typically limited to movement along a surface or substrate.Migration can occur in three-dimensional space, independent of a surface or substrate.

Further Detail


Cells are the fundamental units of life, and they exhibit various characteristics and behaviors depending on their environment and specific requirements. One important distinction among cells is their dependency on anchorage for growth and survival. Anchorage-dependent cells and anchorage-independent cells represent two different types of cellular behavior, each with its own set of attributes and implications. In this article, we will explore and compare the attributes of these two cell types, shedding light on their significance in various biological processes.

Anchorage-dependent Cells

Anchorage-dependent cells, as the name suggests, require a solid surface or extracellular matrix (ECM) for attachment and growth. These cells rely on integrin-mediated adhesion to the ECM, which provides structural support and signaling cues necessary for their survival and proliferation. Anchorage-dependent cells exhibit several distinct attributes:

  • Adhesion and Spreading: Anchorage-dependent cells adhere to the ECM through specialized cell surface receptors called integrins. This adhesion triggers a signaling cascade that promotes cell spreading, allowing the cells to establish stable contacts with the ECM.
  • Growth Regulation: The attachment of anchorage-dependent cells to the ECM plays a crucial role in regulating their growth and proliferation. The ECM provides essential growth factors and signaling molecules that control cell cycle progression and prevent uncontrolled cell division.
  • Morphology and Polarity: Anchorage-dependent cells typically exhibit a well-defined morphology and polarity. They display characteristic shapes and structures, such as elongated fibroblast-like morphology or polygonal epithelial cell morphology, depending on their specific cell type.
  • Tissue Organization: Anchorage-dependent cells are essential for the formation and maintenance of organized tissues. They contribute to the structural integrity of tissues by adhering to neighboring cells and the ECM, allowing for coordinated cell movements and tissue architecture.
  • Cell Signaling: The interaction between anchorage-dependent cells and the ECM triggers various intracellular signaling pathways. These signaling events regulate cell survival, differentiation, migration, and other important cellular processes.

Anchorage-independent Cells

In contrast to anchorage-dependent cells, anchorage-independent cells do not require attachment to a solid surface or ECM for growth and survival. These cells can grow and proliferate in suspension or on non-adherent surfaces, such as in soft agar or liquid culture media. Anchorage-independent cells possess distinct attributes that set them apart from their anchorage-dependent counterparts:

  • Suspension Growth: Anchorage-independent cells can grow and divide in suspension, allowing them to form multicellular aggregates or spheroids. This ability is particularly useful in studying tumor biology and cancer metastasis, as tumor cells often detach from the primary tumor and invade distant sites.
  • Altered Signaling Pathways: Anchorage-independent cells exhibit altered signaling pathways compared to anchorage-dependent cells. The absence of ECM-mediated signaling cues can lead to changes in gene expression, cell cycle regulation, and cell survival pathways.
  • Cellular Plasticity: Anchorage-independent cells often display increased cellular plasticity, allowing them to adapt to different microenvironments and exhibit stem cell-like properties. This plasticity enables them to survive and proliferate in diverse conditions, making them valuable tools for studying cellular reprogramming and differentiation.
  • Invasion and Metastasis: Anchorage-independent cells, particularly cancer cells, have an increased potential for invasion and metastasis. The ability to grow independently of anchorage allows cancer cells to detach from the primary tumor, invade surrounding tissues, and establish secondary tumors in distant organs.
  • Drug Resistance: Anchorage-independent cells often exhibit increased resistance to chemotherapy and other anti-cancer treatments. This resistance is attributed to the altered signaling pathways and cellular plasticity, which enable the cells to evade the cytotoxic effects of drugs.


Anchorage-dependent cells and anchorage-independent cells represent two distinct cellular behaviors with significant implications in various biological processes. Anchorage-dependent cells rely on attachment to a solid surface or ECM for growth, while anchorage-independent cells can grow and proliferate in suspension or on non-adherent surfaces. Understanding the attributes of these cell types is crucial for studying tissue development, cancer biology, and cellular plasticity. By comparing and contrasting the characteristics of anchorage-dependent and anchorage-independent cells, researchers can gain valuable insights into the complex mechanisms that govern cell behavior and contribute to the advancement of biomedical knowledge.

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