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J Cell Sci. 2006 Feb 1;119(Pt 3):508-18.

Cellular adaptation to mechanical stress: role of integrins, Rho, cytoskeletal tension and mechanosensitive ion channels.

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  • 1Vascular Biology Program, Departments of Pathology and Surgery, Children's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, 300 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


To understand how cells sense and adapt to mechanical stress, we applied tensional forces to magnetic microbeads bound to cell-surface integrin receptors and measured changes in bead displacement with sub-micrometer resolution using optical microscopy. Cells exhibited four types of mechanical responses: (1) an immediate viscoelastic response; (2) early adaptive behavior characterized by pulse-to-pulse attenuation in response to oscillatory forces; (3) later adaptive cell stiffening with sustained (>15 second) static stresses; and (4) a large-scale repositioning response with prolonged (>1 minute) stress. Importantly, these adaptation responses differed biochemically. The immediate and early responses were affected by chemically dissipating cytoskeletal prestress (isometric tension), whereas the later adaptive response was not. The repositioning response was prevented by inhibiting tension through interference with Rho signaling, similar to the case of the immediate and early responses, but it was also prevented by blocking mechanosensitive ion channels or by inhibiting Src tyrosine kinases. All adaptive responses were suppressed by cooling cells to 4 degrees C to slow biochemical remodeling. Thus, cells use multiple mechanisms to sense and respond to static and dynamic changes in the level of mechanical stress applied to integrins.

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