The mechanisms regulating protrusions during amoeboid migration exhibit excitability. Theoretical studies have suggested the possible coexistence of traveling and standing waves in excitable systems. Here, we demonstrate the direct transformation of a traveling into a standing wave and establish conditions for the stability of this conversion. This theory combines excitable wave stopping and the emergence of a family of standing waves at zero velocity, without altering diffusion parameters. Experimentally, we show the existence of this phenomenon on the cell cortex of some Dictyostelium and mammalian mutant strains. We further predict a template that encompasses a spectrum of protrusive phenotypes, including pseudopodia and filopodia, through transitions between traveling and standing waves, allowing the cell to switch between excitability and bistability. Overall, this suggests that a previously-unidentified method of pattern formation, in which traveling waves spread, stop, and turn into standing waves that rearrange to form stable patterns, governs cell motility.
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