Force fluctuations within focal adhesions mediate ECM-rigidity sensing to guide directed cell migration.
ABSTRACT: Cell migration toward areas of higher extracellular matrix (ECM) rigidity via a process called "durotaxis" is thought to contribute to development, immune response, and cancer metastasis. To understand how cells sample ECM rigidity to guide durotaxis, we characterized cell-generated forces on the nanoscale within single mature integrin-based focal adhesions (FAs). We found that individual FAs act autonomously, exhibiting either stable or dynamically fluctuating ("tugging") traction. We show that a FAK/phosphopaxillin/vinculin pathway is essential for high FA traction and to enable tugging FA traction over a broad range of ECM rigidities. We show that tugging FA traction is dispensable for FA maturation, chemotaxis, and haptotaxis but is critical to direct cell migration toward rigid ECM. We conclude that individual FAs dynamically sample rigidity by applying fluctuating pulling forces to the ECM to act as sensors to guide durotaxis, and that FAK/phosphopaxillin/vinculin signaling defines the rigidity range over which this dynamic sensing process operates.
Project description:Many cells are small and rounded on soft extracellular matrices (ECM), elongated on stiffer ECMs, and flattened on hard ECMs. Cells also migrate up stiffness gradients (durotaxis). Using a hybrid cellular Potts and finite-element model extended with ODE-based models of focal adhesion (FA) turnover, we show that the full range of cell shape and durotaxis can be explained in unison from dynamics of FAs, in contrast to previous mathematical models. In our 2D cell-shape model, FAs grow due to cell traction forces. Forces develop faster on stiff ECMs, causing FAs to stabilize and, consequently, cells to spread on stiff ECMs. If ECM stress further stabilizes FAs, cells elongate on substrates of intermediate stiffness. We show that durotaxis follows from the same set of assumptions. Our model contributes to the understanding of the basic responses of cells to ECM stiffness, paving the way for future modeling of more complex cell-ECM interactions.
Project description:Focal adhesions (FAs) regulate force transfer between the cytoskeleton and ECM-integrin complexes. We previously showed that vinculin regulates force transmission at FAs. Vinculin residence time in FAs correlated with applied force, supporting a mechanosensitive model in which forces stabilize vinculin's active conformation to promote force transfer. In the present study, we examined the relationship between traction force and vinculin-paxillin localization to single FAs in the context of substrate stiffness and actomyosin contractility. We found that vinculin and paxillin FA area did not correlate with traction force magnitudes at single FAs, and this was consistent across different ECM stiffness and cytoskeletal tension states. However, vinculin residence time at FAs varied linearly with applied force for stiff substrates, and this was disrupted on soft substrates and after contractility inhibition. In contrast, paxillin residence time at FAs was independent of local applied force and substrate stiffness. Paxillin recruitment and residence time at FAs, however, were dependent on cytoskeletal contractility on lower substrate stiffness values. Finally, substrate stiffness and cytoskeletal contractility regulated whether vinculin and paxillin turnover dynamics are correlated to each other at single FAs. This analysis sheds new insights on the coupling among force, substrate stiffness, and FA dynamics.
Project description:In migrating cells, integrin-based focal adhesions (FAs) assemble in protruding lamellipodia in association with rapid filamentous actin (F-actin) assembly and retrograde flow. How dynamic F-actin is coupled to FA is not known. We analyzed the role of vinculin in integrating F-actin and FA dynamics by vinculin gene disruption in primary fibroblasts. Vinculin slowed F-actin flow in maturing FA to establish a lamellipodium-lamellum border and generate high extracellular matrix (ECM) traction forces. In addition, vinculin promoted nascent FA formation and turnover in lamellipodia and inhibited the frequency and rate of FA maturation. Characterization of a vinculin point mutant that specifically disrupts F-actin binding showed that vinculin-F-actin interaction is critical for these functions. However, FA growth rate correlated with F-actin flow speed independently of vinculin. Thus, vinculin functions as a molecular clutch, organizing leading edge F-actin, generating ECM traction, and promoting FA formation and turnover, but vinculin is dispensible for FA growth.
Project description:Actomyosin stress fibers (SFs) enable cells to exert traction on planar extracellular matrices (ECMs) by tensing focal adhesions (FAs) at the cell-ECM interface. Although it is widely appreciated that the spatial and temporal distribution of these tensile forces play key roles in polarity, motility, fate choice, and other defining cell behaviors, virtually nothing is known about how an individual SF quantitatively contributes to tensile loads borne by specific molecules within associated FAs. We address this key open question by using femtosecond laser ablation to sever single SFs in cells while tracking tension across vinculin using a molecular optical sensor. We show that disruption of a single SF reduces tension across vinculin in FAs located throughout the cell, with enriched vinculin tension reduction in FAs oriented parallel to the targeted SF. Remarkably, however, some subpopulations of FAs exhibit enhanced vinculin tension upon SF irradiation and undergo dramatic, unexpected transitions between tension-enhanced and tension-reduced states. These changes depend strongly on the location of the severed SF, consistent with our earlier finding that different SF pools are regulated by distinct myosin activators. We critically discuss the extent to which these measurements can be interpreted in terms of whole-FA tension and traction and propose a model that relates SF tension to adhesive loads and cell shape stability. These studies represent the most direct and high-resolution intracellular measurements of SF contributions to tension on specific FA proteins to date and offer a new paradigm for investigating regulation of adhesive complexes by cytoskeletal force.
Project description:Focal adhesions (FAs) are important mediators of cell-substrate interactions. One of their key functions is the transmission of forces between the intracellular acto-myosin network and the substrate. However, the relationships between cell traction forces, FA architecture, and molecular forces within FAs are poorly understood. Here, by combining Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET)-based molecular force biosensors with micropillar-based traction force sensors and high-resolution fluorescence microscopy, we simultaneously map molecular tension across vinculin, a key protein in FAs, and traction forces at FAs. Our results reveal strong spatiotemporal correlations between vinculin tension and cell traction forces at FAs throughout a wide range of substrate stiffnesses. Furthermore, we find that molecular tension within individual FAs follows a biphasic distribution from the proximal (toward the cell nucleus) to distal end (toward the cell edge). Using super-resolution imaging, we show that such a distribution relates to that of FA proteins. On the basis of our experimental data, we propose a model in which FA dynamics results from tension changes along the FAs.
Project description:The mechanical properties of a cell's microenvironment influence many aspects of cellular behavior, including cell migration. Durotaxis, the migration toward increasing matrix stiffness, has been implicated in processes ranging from development to cancer. During durotaxis, mechanical stimulation by matrix rigidity leads to directed migration. Studies suggest that cells sense mechanical stimuli, or mechanosense, through the acto-myosin cytoskeleton at focal adhesions (FAs); however, FA actin cytoskeletal remodeling and its role in mechanosensing are not fully understood. Here, we show that the Ena/VASP family member, Ena/VASP-like (EVL), polymerizes actin at FAs, which promotes cell-matrix adhesion and mechanosensing. Importantly, we show that EVL regulates mechanically directed motility, and that suppression of EVL expression impedes 3D durotactic invasion. We propose a model in which EVL-mediated actin polymerization at FAs promotes mechanosensing and durotaxis by maturing, and thus reinforcing, FAs. These findings establish dynamic FA actin polymerization as a central aspect of mechanosensing and identify EVL as a crucial regulator of this process.
Project description:Focal adhesions (FAs) are integrin-based transmembrane assemblies that connect a cell to its extracellular matrix (ECM). They are mechanosensors through which cells exert actin cytoskeleton-mediated traction forces to sense the ECM stiffness. Interestingly, FAs themselves are dynamic structures that adapt their growth in response to mechanical force. It is unclear how the cell manages the plasticity of the FA structure and the associated traction force to accurately sense ECM stiffness. Strikingly, FA traction forces oscillate in time and space, and govern the cell mechanosensing of ECM stiffness. However, precisely how and why the FA traction oscillates is unknown. We developed a model of FA growth that integrates the contributions of the branched actin network and stress fibers (SFs). Using the model in combination with experimental tests, we show that the retrograde flux of the branched actin network promotes the proximal growth of the FA and contributes to a traction peak near the FA's distal tip. The resulting traction gradient within the growing FA favors SF formation near the FA's proximal end. The SF-mediated actomyosin contractility further stabilizes the FA and generates a second traction peak near the center of the FA. Formin-mediated SF elongation negatively feeds back with actomyosin contractility, resulting in central traction peak oscillation. This underpins the observed FA traction oscillation and, importantly, broadens the ECM stiffness range over which FAs can accurately adapt to traction force generation. Actin cytoskeleton-mediated FA growth and maturation thus culminate with FA traction oscillation to drive efficient FA mechanosensing.
Project description:Rigidity sensing plays a fundamental role in multiple cell functions ranging from migration, to proliferation and differentiation1-5. During migration, single cells have been reported to preferentially move toward more rigid regions of a substrate in a process termed durotaxis. Durotaxis could contribute to cell migration in wound healing and gastrulation, where local gradients in tissue rigidity have been described. Despite the potential importance of this phenomenon to physiology and disease, it remains unclear how rigidity guides these behaviors and the underlying cellular and molecular mechanisms. To investigate the functional role of subcellular distribution and dynamics of cellular traction forces during durotaxis, we developed a unique microfabrication strategy to generate elastomeric micropost arrays patterned with regions exhibiting two different rigidities juxtaposed next to each other. After initial cell attachment on the rigidity boundary of the micropost array, NIH 3T3 fibroblasts were observed to preferentially migrate toward the rigid region of the micropost array, indicative of durotaxis. Additionally, cells bridging two rigidities across the rigidity boundary on the micropost array developed stronger traction forces on the more rigid side of the substrate indistinguishable from forces generated by cells exclusively seeded on rigid regions of the micropost array. Together, our results highlighted the utility of step-rigidity micropost arrays to investigate the functional role of traction forces in rigidity sensing and durotaxis, suggesting that cells could sense substrate rigidity locally to induce an asymmetrical intracellular traction force distribution to contribute to durotaxis.
Project description:The extracellular matrix (ECM) is a major regulator of cell behavior. Recent studies have indicated the importance of the physical properties of the ECM, including its stiffness, for cell migration and differentiation. Using actomyosin-generated forces, cells pull the ECM and sense stiffness via cell-ECM adhesion structures called focal adhesions (FAs). Vinculin, an actin-binding FA protein, has emerged as a major player in FA-mediated mechanotransduction. Although vinculin is important for sensing ECM stiffness, the role of vinculin binding to actin in the ECM stiffness-mediated regulation of vinculin behavior remains unknown. Here, we show that an actin binding-deficient mutation disrupts the ECM stiffness-dependent regulation of CSB (cytoskeleton stabilization buffer) resistance and the stable localization of vinculin. These results suggest that the vinculin-actin interaction participates in FA-mediated mechanotransduction.
Project description:There is growing appreciation of the importance of the mechanical properties of the tumor microenvironment on disease progression. However, the role of extracellular matrix (ECM) stiffness and cellular mechanotransduction in epithelial ovarian cancer (EOC) is largely unknown. Here, we investigated the effect of substrate rigidity on various aspects of SKOV3 human EOC cell morphology and migration. Young's modulus values of normal mouse peritoneum, a principal target tissue for EOC metastasis, were determined by atomic force microscopy (AFM) and hydrogels were fabricated to mimic these values. We find that cell spreading, focal adhesion formation, myosin light chain phosphorylation, and cellular traction forces all increase on stiffer matrices. Substrate rigidity also positively regulates random cell migration and, importantly, directional increases in matrix tension promote SKOV3 cell durotaxis. Matrix rigidity also promotes nuclear translocation of YAP1, an oncogenic transcription factor associated with aggressive metastatic EOC. Furthermore, disaggregation of multicellular EOC spheroids, a behavior associated with dissemination and metastasis, is enhanced by matrix stiffness through a mechanotransduction pathway involving ROCK, actomyosin contractility, and FAK. Finally, this pattern of mechanosensitivity is maintained in highly metastatic SKOV3ip.1 cells. These results establish that the mechanical properties of the tumor microenvironment may play a role in EOC metastasis.