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Biophys J. 2003 Feb;84(2 Pt 1):1344-51.

Mechanical forces impeding exocytotic surfactant release revealed by optical tweezers.

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Department of Medical Physics, University of Innsbruck, A-6020 Innsbruck, Austria.


The release of surfactant from alveolar type II cells is essential to lower the surface tension in the lung and to facilitate inspiration. However, the factors controlling dispersal and diffusion of this hydrophobic material are still poorly understood. Here we report that release of surfactant from the fused vesicle, termed lamellar body (LB), resisted mechanical forces applied by optical tweezers: At constant trapping force, the probability to expand LB contents, i.e., to "pull" surfactant into the extracellular fluid, increased with time after LB fusion with the plasma membrane, consistent with slow fusion pore expansion in these cells. Elevations of the cytoplasmic Ca(2+) concentration ([Ca(2+)](c)) had a similar effect. Inasmuch as surfactant did not disintegrate in the extracellular space, this method permitted for the first time the determination of elastic and recoil properties of the macromolecular complex, yielding a spring constant of approximately 12.5 pN/ micro m. This is the first functional evidence that release of hydrophobic material is mechanically impeded and occurs in an "all-or-none" fashion. This mode of release is most probably the result of cohesive forces of surfactant, combined with adhesive forces and/or retaining forces exerted by a constrictive fusion pore acting as a regulated mechanical barrier, withstanding forces up to 160 pN. In independent experiments equiaxial strain was exerted on cells without optical tweezers. Strain facilitated surfactant release from preexisting fused vesicles, consistent with the view of mechanical impediments during the release process, which can be overcome by cell strain.

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