Vinculin and the mechanical response of adherent fibroblasts to matrix deformation.
ABSTRACT: Cells respond to the mechanics of their environment. Mechanical cues include extracellular matrix (ECM) stiffness and deformation, which are primarily sensed through integrin-mediated adhesions. We investigated the impact of ECM deformation on cellular forces, measuring the time-evolution of traction forces of isolated mouse fibroblasts in response to stretch and release. Stretch triggered a marked increase of traction stresses and apparent stiffness. Expression of the focal adhesion protein vinculin not only increased baseline traction forces, but also increased dissipation of mechanical energy, which was correlated with the cells' failure to recover baseline traction forces after release of stretch.
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:Focal adhesions are cellular structures through which both mechanical forces and regulatory signals are transmitted. Two focal adhesion-associated proteins, Crk-associated substrate (CAS) and vinculin, were both independently shown to be crucial for the ability of cells to transmit mechanical forces and to regulate cytoskeletal tension. Here, we identify a novel, direct binding interaction between CAS and vinculin. This interaction is mediated by the CAS SRC homology 3 domain and a proline-rich sequence in the hinge region of vinculin. We show that CAS localization in focal adhesions is partially dependent on vinculin, and that CAS-vinculin coupling is required for stretch-induced activation of CAS at the Y410 phosphorylation site. Moreover, CAS-vinculin binding significantly affects the dynamics of CAS and vinculin within focal adhesions as well as the size of focal adhesions. Finally, disruption of CAS binding to vinculin reduces cell stiffness and traction force generation. Taken together, these findings strongly implicate a crucial role of CAS-vinculin interaction in mechanosensing and focal adhesion dynamics.
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:Astrocyte reactivity is associated with poor repair capacity after injury to the brain, where chemical and physical changes occur in the damaged zone. Astrocyte surface proteins, such as integrins, are upregulated, and the release of pro-inflammatory molecules and extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins upon damage generate a stiffer matrix. Integrins play an important role in triggering a reactive phenotype in astrocytes, and we have reported that α <sub><i>V</i></sub> β<sub>3</sub> Integrin binds to the Thy-1 (CD90) neuronal glycoprotein, increasing astrocyte contractility and motility. Alternatively, α <sub><i>V</i></sub> β<sub>3</sub> Integrin senses mechanical forces generated by the increased ECM stiffness. Until now, the association between the α <sub><i>V</i></sub> β<sub>3</sub> Integrin mechanoreceptor response in astrocytes and changes in their reactive phenotype is unclear. To study the response to combined chemical and mechanical stress, astrocytes were stimulated with Thy-1-Protein A-coated magnetic beads and exposed to a magnetic field to generate mechanical tension. We evaluated the effect of such stimulation on cell adhesion and contraction. We also assessed traction forces and their effect on cell morphology, and integrin surface expression. Mechanical stress accelerated the response of astrocytes to Thy-1 engagement of integrin receptors, resulting in cell adhesion and contraction. Astrocyte contraction then exerted traction forces onto the ECM, inducing faster cell contractility and higher traction forces than Thy-1 alone. Therefore, cell-extrinsic chemical and mechanical signals regulate in an outside-in manner, astrocyte reactivity by inducing integrin upregulation, ligation, and signaling events that promote cell contraction. These changes in turn generate cell-intrinsic signals that increase traction forces exerted onto the ECM (inside-out). This study reveals α <sub><i>V</i></sub> β<sub>3</sub> Integrin mechanoreceptor as a novel target to regulate the harmful effects of reactive astrocytes in neuronal healing.
Project description:Mechanical cues in the cellular environment play important roles in guiding various cell behaviors, such as cell alignment, migration, and differentiation. Previous studies investigated mechanical stretch guided cell alignment pre-dominantly with cyclic stretching whereby an external force is applied to stretch the substrate dynamically (i.e., cyclically) while the cells are attached onto the substrate. In contrast, we created a static pre-stretched anisotropic surface in which the cells were seeded subsequent to stretching the substrate. We hypothesized that the cell senses the physical environment through a more active mechanism, namely, even without external forces the cell can actively apply traction and sense an increased stiffness in the stretched direction and align in that direction. To test our hypothesis, we quantified the extent of pre-stretch induced anisotropy by employing the theory of small deformation superimposed on large and predicted the effective stiffness in the stretch direction as well as its perpendicular direction. We showed mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) aligned in the pre-stretched direction, and the cell alignment and morphology were dependent on the pre-stretch magnitude. In addition, the pre-stretched surface demonstrated an ability to promote early myoblast differentiation of the MSC. This study is the first report on MSC alignment on a statically pre-stretched surface. The cell orientation induced by the pre-stretch induced anisotropy could provide insight into tissue engineering applications involving cells that aligned in vivo in the absence of dynamic mechanical stimuli.
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:Focal adhesions mediate force transfer between ECM-integrin complexes and the cytoskeleton. Although vinculin has been implicated in force transmission, few direct measurements have been made, and there is little mechanistic insight. Using vinculin-null cells expressing vinculin mutants, we demonstrate that vinculin is not required for transmission of adhesive and traction forces but is necessary for myosin contractility-dependent adhesion strength and traction force and for the coupling of cell area and traction force. Adhesion strength and traction forces depend differentially on vinculin head (V(H)) and tail domains. V(H) enhances adhesion strength by increasing ECM-bound integrin-talin complexes, independently from interactions with vinculin tail ligands and contractility. A full-length, autoinhibition-deficient mutant (T12) increases adhesion strength compared with VH, implying roles for both vinculin activation and the actin-binding tail. In contrast to adhesion strength, vinculin-dependent traction forces absolutely require a full-length and activated molecule; V(H) has no effect. Physical linkage of the head and tail domains is required for maximal force responses. Residence times of vinculin in focal adhesions, but not T12 or V(H), correlate with applied force, supporting a mechanosensitive model for vinculin activation in which forces stabilize vinculin's active conformation to promote force transfer.
Project description:The cytoskeletal protein vinculin contributes to the mechanical link of the contractile actomyosin cytoskeleton to the extracellular matrix (ECM) through integrin receptors. In addition, vinculin modulates the dynamics of cell adhesions and is associated with decreased cell motility on two-dimensional ECM substrates. The effect of vinculin on cell invasion through dense three-dimensional ECM gels is unknown. Here, we report how vinculin expression affects cell invasion into three-dimensional collagen matrices. Cell motility was investigated in vinculin knockout and vinculin expressing wild-type mouse embryonic fibroblasts. Vinculin knockout cells were 2-fold more motile on two-dimensional collagen-coated substrates compared with wild-type cells, but 3-fold less invasive in 2.4 mg/ml three-dimensional collagen matrices. Vinculin knockout cells were softer and remodeled their cytoskeleton more dynamically, which is consistent with their enhanced two-dimensional motility but does not explain their reduced three-dimensional invasiveness. Importantly, vinculin-expressing cells adhered more strongly to collagen and generated 3-fold higher traction forces compared with vinculin knockout cells. Moreover, vinculin-expressing cells were able to migrate into dense (5.8 mg/ml) three-dimensional collagen matrices that were impenetrable for vinculin knockout cells. These findings suggest that vinculin facilitates three-dimensional matrix invasion through up-regulation or enhanced transmission of traction forces that are needed to overcome the steric hindrance of ECMs.
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: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.