Organ sculpting by patterned extracellular matrix stiffness.
ABSTRACT: How organ-shaping mechanical imbalances are generated is a central question of morphogenesis, with existing paradigms focusing on asymmetric force generation within cells. We show here that organs can be sculpted instead by patterning anisotropic resistance within their extracellular matrix (ECM). Using direct biophysical measurements of elongating Drosophila egg chambers, we document robust mechanical anisotropy in the ECM-based basement membrane (BM) but not in the underlying epithelium. Atomic force microscopy (AFM) on wild-type BM in vivo reveals an anterior-posterior (A-P) symmetric stiffness gradient, which fails to develop in elongation-defective mutants. Genetic manipulation shows that the BM is instructive for tissue elongation and the determinant is relative rather than absolute stiffness, creating differential resistance to isotropic tissue expansion. The stiffness gradient requires morphogen-like signaling to regulate BM incorporation, as well as planar-polarized organization to homogenize it circumferentially. Our results demonstrate how fine mechanical patterning in the ECM can guide cells to shape an organ.
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:Engineered skeletal muscles are inferior to natural muscles in terms of contractile force, hampering their potential use in practical applications. One major limitation is that the extracellular matrix (ECM) not only impedes the contraction but also ineffectively transmits the forces generated by myotubes to the load. In the present study, ECM remodelling improves contractile force in a short time, and a coordinated, combined electrical and mechanical stimulation induces the desired ECM remodelling. Notably, the application of single and combined stimulations to the engineered muscles remodels the structure of their ECM networks, which determines the mechanical properties of the ECM. Myotubes in the tissues are connected in parallel and in series to the ECM. The stiffness of the parallel ECM must be low not to impede contraction, while the stiffness of the serial ECM must be high to transmit the forces to the load. Both the experimental results and the mechanistic model suggest that the combined stimulation through coordination reorients the ECM fibres in such a way that the parallel ECM stiffness is reduced, while the serial ECM stiffness is increased. In particular, 3 and 20 minutes of alternating electrical and mechanical stimulations increase the force by 18% and 31%, respectively.
Project description:The extracellular matrix (ECM) of the lung provides physical support and key mechanical signals to pulmonary cells. Although lung ECM is continuously subjected to different stretch levels, detailed mechanics of the ECM at the scale of the cell is poorly understood. Here, we developed a new polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) chip to probe nonlinear mechanics of tissue samples with atomic force microscopy (AFM). Using this chip, we performed AFM measurements in decellularized rat lung slices at controlled stretch levels. The AFM revealed highly nonlinear ECM elasticity with the microscale stiffness increasing with tissue strain. To correlate micro- and macroscale ECM mechanics, we also assessed macromechanics of decellularized rat lung strips under uniaxial tensile testing. The lung strips exhibited exponential macromechanical behavior but with stiffness values one order of magnitude lower than at the microscale. To interpret the relationship between micro- and macromechanical properties, we carried out a finite element (FE) analysis which revealed that the stiffness of the alveolar cell microenvironment is regulated by the global strain of the lung scaffold. The FE modeling also indicates that the scale dependence of stiffness is mainly due to the porous architecture of the lung parenchyma. We conclude that changes in tissue strain during breathing result in marked changes in the ECM stiffness sensed by alveolar cells providing tissue-specific mechanical signals to the cells. STATEMENT OF SIGNIFICANCE: The micromechanical properties of the extracellular matrix (ECM) are a major determinant of cell behavior. The ECM is exposed to mechanical stretching in the lung and other organs during physiological function. Therefore, a thorough knowledge of the nonlinear micromechanical properties of the ECM at the length scale that cells probe is required to advance our understanding of cell-matrix interplay. We designed a novel PDMS chip to perform atomic force microscopy measurements of ECM micromechanics on decellularized rat lung slices at different macroscopic strain levels. For the first time, our results reveal that the microscale stiffness of lung ECM markedly increases with macroscopic tissue strain. Therefore, changes in tissue strain during breathing result in variations in ECM stiffness providing tissue-specific mechanical signals to lung cells.
Project description:The mechanical properties of the extracellular matrix (ECM) can dictate cell fate in biological systems. In tissue engineering, varying the stiffness of hydrogels-water-swollen polymeric networks that act as ECM substrates-has previously been demonstrated to control cell migration, proliferation, and differentiation. Here, "digital plasmonic patterning" (DPP) is developed to mechanically alter a hydrogel encapsulated with gold nanorods using a near-infrared laser, according to a digital (computer-generated) pattern. DPP can provide orders of magnitude changes in stiffness, and can be tuned by laser intensity and speed of writing. In vitro cellular experiments using A7R5 smooth muscle cells confirm cell migration and alignment according to these patterns, making DPP a useful technique for mechanically patterning hydrogels for various biomedical applications.
Project description: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:Filopodia have a key role in sensing both chemical and mechanical cues in surrounding extracellular matrix (ECM). However, quantitative understanding is still missing in the filopodial mechanosensing of local ECM stiffness, resulting from dynamic interactions between filopodia and the surrounding 3D ECM fibers. Here we present a method for characterizing the stiffness of ECM that is sensed by filopodia based on the theory of elasticity and discrete ECM fiber. We have applied this method to a filopodial mechanosensing model for predicting directed cell migration toward stiffer ECM. This model provides us with a distribution of force and displacement as well as their time rate of changes near the tip of a filopodium when it is bound to the surrounding ECM fibers. Aggregating these effects in each local region of 3D ECM, we express the local ECM stiffness sensed by the cell and explain polarity in the cellular durotaxis mechanism.
Project description:In articular cartilage, chondrocytes are surrounded by a narrow region called the pericellular matrix (PCM), which is biochemically, structurally, and mechanically distinct from the bulk extracellular matrix (ECM). Although multiple techniques have been used to measure the mechanical properties of the PCM using isolated chondrons (the PCM with enclosed cells), few studies have measured the biomechanical properties of the PCM in situ. The objective of this study was to quantify the in situ mechanical properties of the PCM and ECM of human, porcine, and murine articular cartilage using atomic force microscopy (AFM). Microscale elastic moduli were quantitatively measured for a region of interest using stiffness mapping, or force-volume mapping, via AFM. This technique was first validated by means of elastomeric models (polyacrylamide or polydimethylsiloxane) of a soft inclusion surrounded by a stiff medium. The elastic properties of the PCM were evaluated for regions surrounding cell voids in the middle/deep zone of sectioned articular cartilage samples. ECM elastic properties were evaluated in regions visually devoid of PCM. Stiffness mapping successfully depicted the spatial arrangement of moduli in both model and cartilage surfaces. The modulus of the PCM was significantly lower than that of the ECM in human, porcine, and murine articular cartilage, with a ratio of PCM to ECM properties of approximately 0.35 for all species. These findings are consistent with previous studies of mechanically isolated chondrons, and suggest that stiffness mapping via AFM can provide a means of determining microscale inhomogeneities in the mechanical properties of articular cartilage in situ.
Project description:The detection of different frequencies in sound is accomplished with remarkable precision by the basilar membrane (BM), an elastic, ribbon-like structure with graded stiffness along the cochlear spiral. Sound stimulates a wave of displacement along the BM with maximal magnitude at precise, frequency-specific locations to excite neural signals that carry frequency information to the brain. Perceptual frequency discrimination requires fine resolution of this frequency map, but little is known of the intrinsic molecular features that demarcate the place of response on the BM. To investigate the role of BM microarchitecture in frequency discrimination, we deleted extracellular matrix protein emilin 2, which disturbed the filamentous organization in the BM. Emilin2 -/- mice displayed broadened mechanical and neural frequency tuning with multiple response peaks that are shifted to lower frequencies than normal. Thus, emilin 2 confers a stiffness gradient on the BM that is critical for accurate frequency resolution.
Project description:In idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) structural properties of the extracellular matrix (ECM) are altered and influence cellular responses through cell-matrix interactions. Scaffolds (decellularized tissue) derived from subpleural healthy and IPF lungs were examined regarding biomechanical properties and ECM composition of proteins (the matrisome). Scaffolds were repopulated with healthy fibroblasts cultured under static stretch with heavy isotope amino acids (SILAC), to examine newly synthesized proteins over time. IPF scaffolds were characterized by increased tissue density, stiffness, ultimate force, and differential expressions of matrisome proteins compared to healthy scaffolds. Collagens, proteoglycans, and ECM glycoproteins were increased in IPF scaffolds, however while specific basement membrane (BM) proteins such as laminins and collagen IV were decreased, nidogen-2 was also increased. Findings were confirmed with histology, clearly showing a disorganized BM. Fibroblasts produced scaffold-specific proteins mimicking preexisting scaffold composition, where 11 out of 20 BM proteins were differentially expressed, along with increased periostin and proteoglycans production. We demonstrate how matrisome changes affect fibroblast activity using novel approaches to study temporal differences, where IPF scaffolds support a disorganized BM and upregulation of disease-associated proteins. These matrix-directed cellular responses emphasize the IPF matrisome and specifically the BM components as important factors for disease progression.