We present a model that provides a mechanistic understanding of the processes that govern the formation of the earliest integrin adhesions ex novo from an approximately planar plasma membrane. Using an analytic analysis of the free energy of a dynamically deformable membrane containing freely diffusing receptors molecules and long repeller molecules that inhibit integrins from binding with ligands on the extracellular matrix, we predict that a coalescence of polymerizing actin filaments can deform the membrane toward the extracellular matrix and facilitate integrin binding. Monte Carlo simulations of this system show that thermally induced membrane fluctuations can either zip-up and increase the radius of a nucleated adhesion or unzip and shrink an adhesion, but the fluctuations cannot bend the ventral membrane to nucleate an adhesion. To distinguish this integrin adhesion from more mature adhesions, we refer to this early adhesion as a nouveau adhesion.
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