Fibronectin fibrillogenesis facilitates mechano-dependent cell spreading, force generation, and nuclear size in human embryonic fibroblasts.
ABSTRACT: Cells respond to mechanical cues from the substrate to which they are attached. These mechanical cues drive cell migration, proliferation, differentiation, and survival. Previous studies have highlighted three specific mechanisms through which substrate stiffness directly alters cell function: increasing stiffness drives (1) larger contractile forces; (2) increased cell spreading and size; and (3) altered nuclear deformation. While studies have shown that substrate mechanics are an important cue, the role of the extracellular matrix (ECM) has largely been ignored. The ECM is a crucial component of the mechanosensing system for two reasons: (1) many ECM fibrils are assembled by application of cell-generated forces, and (2) ECM proteins have unique mechanical properties that will undoubtedly alter the local stiffness sensed by a cell. We specifically focused on the role of the ECM protein fibronectin (FN), which plays a critical role in de novo tissue production. In this study, we first measured the effects of substrate stiffness on human embryonic fibroblasts by plating cells onto microfabricated pillar arrays (MPAs) of varying stiffness. Cells responded to increasing substrate stiffness by generating larger forces, spreading to larger sizes, and altering nuclear geometry. These cells also assembled FN fibrils across all stiffnesses, with optimal assembly occurring at approximately 6 kPa. We then inhibited FN assembly, which resulted in dramatic reductions in contractile force generation, cell spreading, and nuclear geometry across all stiffnesses. These findings suggest that FN fibrils play a critical role in facilitating cellular responses to substrate stiffness.
Project description:The ability of cells to sense and respond to mechanical cues from the surrounding environment has been implicated as a key regulator of cell differentiation, migration, and proliferation. The extracellular matrix (ECM) is an oft-overlooked component of the interface between cells and their surroundings. Cells assemble soluble ECM proteins into insoluble fibrils with unique mechanical properties that can alter the mechanical cues a cell receives. In this study, we construct a model that predicts the dynamics of cellular traction force generation and subsequent assembly of fibrils of the ECM protein fibronectin (FN). FN fibrils are the primary component in primordial ECM and, as such, FN assembly is a critical component in the cellular mechanical response. The model consists of a network of Hookean springs, each representing an extensible domain within an assembling FN fibril. As actomyosin forces stretch the spring network, simulations predict the resulting traction force and FN fibril formation. The model accurately predicts FN fibril morphometry and demonstrates a mechanism by which FN fibril assembly regulates traction force dynamics in response to mechanical stimuli and varying surrounding substrate stiffness.
Project description:Despite the crucial role of extracellular matrix (ECM) in directing cell fate in healthy and diseased tissues--particularly in development, wound healing, tissue regeneration and cancer--the mechanisms that direct the assembly and regulate hierarchical architectures of ECM are poorly understood. Collagen I matrix assembly in vivo requires active fibronectin (Fn) fibrillogenesis by cells. Here we exploit Fn-FRET probes as mechanical strain sensors and demonstrate that collagen I fibres preferentially co-localize with more-relaxed Fn fibrils in the ECM of fibroblasts in cell culture. Fibre stretch-assay studies reveal that collagen I's Fn-binding domain is responsible for the mechano-regulated interaction. Furthermore, we show that Fn-collagen interactions are reciprocal: relaxed Fn fibrils act as multivalent templates for collagen assembly, but once assembled, collagen fibres shield Fn fibres from being stretched by cellular traction forces. Thus, in addition to the well-recognized, force-regulated, cell-matrix interactions, forces also tune the interactions between different structural ECM components.
Project description:The mechanical properties of living cells reflect their propensity to migrate and respond to external forces. Both cellular and nuclear stiffnesses are strongly influenced by the rigidity of the extracellular matrix (ECM) through reorganization of the cyto- and nucleoskeletal protein connections. Changes in this architectural continuum affect cell mechanics and underlie many pathological conditions. In this context, an accurate and combined quantification of the mechanical properties of both cells and nuclei can contribute to a better understanding of cellular (dys-)function. To address this challenge, we have established a robust method for probing cellular and nuclear deformation during spreading and detachment from micropatterned substrates. We show that (de-)adhesion kinetics of endothelial cells are modulated by substrate stiffness and rely on the actomyosin network. We combined this approach with measurements of cell stiffness by magnetic tweezers to show that relaxation dynamics can be considered as a reliable parameter of cellular pre-stress in adherent cells. During the adhesion stage, large cellular and nuclear deformations occur over a long time span (>60 min). Conversely, nuclear deformation and condensed chromatin are relaxed in a few seconds after detachment. Finally, our results show that accumulation of farnesylated prelamin leads to modifications of the nuclear viscoelastic properties, as reflected by increased nuclear relaxation times. Our method offers an original and non-intrusive way of simultaneously gauging cellular and nuclear mechanics, which can be extended to high-throughput screens of pathological conditions and potential countermeasures.
Project description:The ability of adherent cells to sense changes in the mechanical properties of their extracellular environments is critical to numerous aspects of their physiology. It has been well documented that cell attachment and spreading are sensitive to substrate stiffness. Here, we demonstrate that this behavior is actually biphasic, with a transition that occurs around a Young's modulus of ∼7 kPa. Furthermore, we demonstrate that, contrary to established assumptions, this property is independent of myosin II activity. Rather, we find that cell spreading on soft substrates is inhibited due to reduced myosin-II independent nascent adhesion formation within the lamellipodium. Cells on soft substrates display normal leading-edge protrusion activity, but these protrusions are not stabilized due to impaired adhesion assembly. Enhancing integrin-ECM affinity through addition of Mn2+ recovers nascent adhesion assembly and cell spreading on soft substrates. Using a computational model to simulate nascent adhesion assembly, we find that biophysical properties of the integrin-ECM bond are optimized to stabilize interactions above a threshold matrix stiffness that is consistent with the experimental observations. Together, these results suggest that myosin II-independent forces in the lamellipodium are responsible for mechanosensation by regulating new adhesion assembly, which, in turn, directly controls cell spreading. This myosin II-independent mechanism of substrate stiffness sensing could potentially regulate a number of other stiffness-sensitive processes.
Project description:Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition (EMT) is a dynamic process through which epithelial cells transdifferentiate from an epithelial phenotype into a mesenchymal phenotype. Previous studies have demonstrated that both mechanical signaling and soluble growth factor signaling facilitate this process. One possible point of integration for mechanical and growth factor signaling is the extracellular matrix. Here we investigate the role of the extracellular matrix (ECM) protein fibronectin (FN) in this process. We demonstrate that inhibition of FN fibrillogenesis blocks activation of the Transforming Growth Factor-Beta (TGF-?) signaling pathway via Smad2 signaling, decreases cell migration and ultimately leads to inhibition of EMT. Results show that soluble FN, FN fibrils, or increased contractile forces are insufficient to independently induce EMT. We further demonstrate that inhibition of latent TGF-?1 binding to FN fibrils via either a monoclonal blocking antibody against the growth factor binding domain of FN or through use of a FN deletion mutant that lacks the growth factor binding domains of FN blocks EMT progression, indicating a novel role for FN in EMT in which the assembly of FN fibrils serves to localize TGF-?1 signaling to drive EMT.
Project description:Mechanical cues like the rigidity of the substrate are main determinants for the decision-making of adherent cells. Here we use a mechano-chemical model to predict the cellular response to varying substrate stiffnesses. The model equations combine the mechanics of contractile actin filament bundles with a model for the Rho-signaling pathway triggered by forces at cell-matrix contacts. A bifurcation analysis of cellular contractility as a function of substrate stiffness reveals a bistable response, thus defining a lower threshold of stiffness, below which cells are not able to build up contractile forces, and an upper threshold of stiffness, above which cells are always in a strongly contracted state. Using the full dynamical model, we predict that rate-dependent hysteresis will occur in the cellular traction forces when cells are exposed to substrates of time-dependent stiffness.
Project description:The interplay between cadherin- and integrin-dependent signals controls cell behavior, but the precise mechanisms that regulate the strength of adhesion to the extracellular matrix remains poorly understood. We deposited cells expressing a defined repertoire of cadherins and integrins on fibronectin (FN)-coated polyacrylamide gels (FN-PAG) and on FN-coated pillars used as a micro-force sensor array (?FSA), and analyzed the functional relationship between these adhesion receptors to determine how it regulates cell traction force. We found that cadherin-mediated adhesion stimulated cell spreading on FN-PAG, and this was modulated by the substrate stiffness. We compared S180 cells with cells stably expressing different cadherins on ?FSA and found that traction forces were stronger in cells expressing cadherins than in parental cells. E-cadherin-mediated contact and mechanical coupling between cells are required for this increase in cell-FN traction force, which was not observed in isolated cells, and required Src and PI3K activities. Traction forces were stronger in cells expressing type I cadherins than in cells expressing type II cadherins, which correlates with our previous observation of a higher intercellular adhesion strength developed by type I compared with type II cadherins. Our results reveal one of the mechanisms whereby molecular cross talk between cadherins and integrins upregulates traction forces at cell-FN adhesion sites, and thus provide additional insight into the molecular control of cell behavior.
Project description:The dermal extracellular matrix (ECM) provides strength and resiliency to skin. The ECM consists mostly of type I collagen fibrils, which are produced by fibroblasts. Binding of fibroblasts to collagen fibrils generates mechanical forces, which regulate cellular morphology and function. With aging, collagen fragmentation reduces fibroblast-ECM binding and mechanical forces, resulting in fibroblast shrinkage and reduced function, including collagen production. Here, we report that these age-related alterations are largely reversed by enhancing the structural support of the ECM. Injection of dermal filler, cross-linked hyaluronic acid, into the skin of individuals over 70 years of age stimulates fibroblasts to produce type I collagen. This stimulation is associated with localized increase in mechanical forces, indicated by fibroblast elongation/spreading, and mediated by upregulation of type II TGF-? receptor and connective tissue growth factor. Interestingly, enhanced mechanical support of the ECM also stimulates fibroblast proliferation, expands vasculature, and increases epidermal thickness. Consistent with our observations in human skin, injection of filler into dermal equivalent cultures causes elongation of fibroblasts, coupled with type I collagen synthesis, which is dependent on the TGF-? signaling pathway. Thus, fibroblasts in aged human skin retain their capacity for functional activation, which is restored by enhancing structural support of the ECM.
Project description:Pericytes (PCs) have been reported to contribute to the mechanoregulation of the capillary diameter and blood flow in health and disease. How this is realized remains poorly understood. We designed several models representing basement membrane (BM) in between PCs and endothelial cells (ECs). These models captured a unique protein organization with micron-sized FN patches surrounded by laminin (LM) and allowed to obtain quantitative information on PC morphology and contractility. Using human induced pluripotent stem cell-derived PCs, we could address mechanical aspects of mid-capillary PC behavior in vitro. Our results showed that PCs strongly prefer FN patches over LM for adhesion formation, have an optimal stiffness for spreading in the range of EC rigidity, and react in a non-canonical way with increased traction forces and reduced spreading on other stiffness then the optimal. Our approach opens possibilities to further study PC force regulation under well-controlled conditions.
Project description:Cells within tissues are surrounded by fibrillar extracellular matrix (ECM) that supports cell adhesion via integrin receptors. The strength of cell interactions with fibrillar matrix and the effects of force on these interactions have not been quantified. To this end, we used a spinning disc device to apply radially increasing shear to human HT1080 fibrosarcoma cells attached to a cell-derived fibrillar fibronectin (FN) matrix. The shear required to detach 50% of HT1080 cells was eight times greater on a FN-coated, rigid glass substrate than on fibrillar FN matrix. Covalent crosslinking of the FN matrix increased its stiffness tenfold and produced a modest increase in shear detachment force for these cells. On FN-coated surfaces, cells detach by releasing interactions between alpha5beta1 integrin and FN. By contrast, cell detachment from fibrillar matrix occurred through a novel mechanism of fibril breakage, which left holes in the matrix visible by fluorescence microscopy. These results show that cells require less force to detach from fibrillar matrix than from FN adsorbed on glass and that detachment occurs through breaking fibrils instead of by release of integrin-matrix bonds. Thus, ECM fibril breakage is another molecular feature to consider when understanding cell and tissue homeostasis.