According to the hypothesis of contact inhibition of movement, cells in a confluent monolayer are restrained from major overlapping by a directional inhibition of locomotion. This explanation of monolayering proposes that contact between 2 cells locally paralyses the locomotory function, preventing movement in the direction that would lead to overlapping. Consequently, a cell in contact on all sides with neighbouring cells should be immobilized. Yet in strictly monolayered cultures of confluent chick liver or mouse 3T3 cells, we have previously observed both translational cell movements and re-shufflings of relative cell positions. The ‘confluence’ was not perfect, however, and it seemed possible that the movements observed were due to release from contact inhibition by occasional transitory gaps seen to open up between cells. In the present study, detailed gap experiences and cell movements were recorded for 31 cells over a total of 1637 cell-hours. There was no significant correlation between frequency of gaps experienced and the extent of cell movement measured as neighbour-exchanges. We conclude that gaps are not a major cause of the movements observed. The hypothesis based on contact inhibition of motion, which attempts to explain monolayering indirectly by imposing a restraint on cell locomotion, cannot explain the substantial cell movements seen in the confluent cell monolayer studied here. To explain contact inhibition of overlapping, the evidence favours a more direct hypothesis which places no restriction on cell movement other than that overlapping be avoided. Such direct avoidance of overlapping could result from differences in the strengths with which cells adhere to one another and to the substratum.

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