Self-organization is a key feature of many biological and developmental processes, including cell migration. Although cell migration has traditionally been viewed as a biological response to extrinsic signals, advances within the past two decades have highlighted the importance of intrinsic self-organizing properties to direct cell migration on multiple scales. In this Review, we will explore self-organizing mechanisms that lay the foundation for both single and collective cell migration. Based on in vitro and in vivo examples, we will discuss theoretical concepts that underlie the persistent migration of single cells in the absence of directional guidance cues, and the formation of an autonomous cell collective that drives coordinated migration. Finally, we highlight the general implications of self-organizing principles guiding cell migration for biological and medical research.

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