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Exp Eye Res. 2007 Oct;85(4):546-56. Epub 2007 Jul 19.

Microtubule regulation of corneal fibroblast morphology and mechanical activity in 3-D culture.

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  • 1Graduate Program in Biomedical Engineering, University of Texas, Southwestern Medical Center, 5323 Harry Hines Blvd., Dallas, TX 75390-9057, USA.


The purpose of this study was to investigate the role of microtubules in regulating corneal fibroblast structure and mechanical behavior using static (3-D) and dynamic (4-D) imaging of both cells and their surrounding matrix. Human corneal fibroblasts transfected to express GFP-zyxin (to label focal adhesions) or GFP-tubulin (to label microtubules) were plated at low density inside 100 microm thick type I collagen matrices. After 24h, the effects of nocodazole (to depolymerize microtubules), cytochalasin D (to disrupt f-actin), and/or Y-27632 (to block Rho-kinase) were evaluated using 3-D and 4-D imaging of both cells and ECM. After 24h of incubation, cells had well organized microtubules and prominent focal adhesions, and significant cell-induced matrix compaction was observed. Addition of nocodazole induced rapid microtubule disruption which resulted in Rho activation and additional cellular contraction. The matrix was pulled inward by retracting pseudopodial processes, and focal adhesions appeared to mediate this process. Following 24h exposure to nocodazole, there was an even greater increase in both the number of stress fibers and the amount of matrix compaction and alignment at the ends of cells. When Rho-kinase was inhibited, disruption of microtubules resulted in retraction of dendritic cell processes, and rapid formation and extension of lamellipodial processes at random locations along the cell body, eventually leading to a convoluted, disorganized cell shape. These data suggest that microtubules modulate both cellular contractility and local collagen matrix reorganization via regulation of Rho/Rho-kinase activity. In addition, microtubules appear to play a central role in dynamic regulation of cell spreading mechanics, morphology and polarity in 3-D culture.

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