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Endocrinology. 2010 Feb;151(2):451-7. doi: 10.1210/en.2009-0932. Epub 2009 Dec 16.

A tiny touch: activation of cell signaling pathways with magnetic nanoparticles.

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  • Department of Mechanical Engineering, Box 352600 University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195, USA.


Magnetic nanoparticles can be coated with specific ligands that enable them to bind to receptors on a cell's surface. When a magnetic field is applied, it pulls on the particles so that they deliver nanoscale forces at the ligand-receptor bond. It has been observed that mechanical stimulation in this manner can activate cellular signaling pathways that are known as mechanotransduction pathways. Integrin receptors, stretch-activated ion channels, focal adhesions, and the cytoskeleton are key players in activating these pathways, but there is still much we do not know about how these mechanosensors work. Current evidence indicates that applied forces at these structures can activate Ca(2+) signaling, Src family protein kinase, MAPK, and RhoGTPase pathways. The techniques of magnetic twisting and magnetic tweezers, which use magnetic particles to apply forces to cells, afford a fine degree of control over how cells are stimulated and hold much promise in elucidating the fundamentals of mechanotransduction. The particles are generally not harmful to cellular health, and their nanoscale dimensions make them advantageous for probing a cell's molecular-scale sensory structures. This review highlights the basic aspects of magnetic nanoparticles, magnetic particle techniques and the structures and pathways that are involved in mechanotransduction.

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