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J Mol Biol. 2007 Sep 21;372(3):594-607. Epub 2007 Jul 3.

Cellular remodelling of individual collagen fibrils visualized by time-lapse AFM.

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BioTechnological Center, University of Technology Dresden, Tatzberg 47-51, 01307 Dresden, Germany.


The extracellular matrix in tissues such as bone, tendon and cornea contains ordered, parallel arrays of collagen type I fibrils. Cells embedded in these matrices frequently co-align with the collagen fibrils, suggesting that ordered fibrils provide structural or signalling cues for cell polarization. To study mechanisms of matrix-induced cell alignment, we used nanoscopically defined two-dimensional matrices assembled of highly aligned collagen type I fibrils. On these matrices, different cell lines expressing integrin alpha(2)beta(1) polarized strongly in the fibril direction. In contrast, alpha(2)beta(1)-deficient cells adhered but polarized less well, suggesting a role of integrin alpha(2)beta(1) in the alignment process. Time-lapse atomic force microscopy (AFM) demonstrated that during alignment cells deform the matrix by reorienting individual collagen fibrils. Cells deformed the collagen matrix asymmetrically, revealing an anisotropy in matrix rigidity. When matrix rigidity was rendered uniform by chemical cross-linking or when the matrix was formed from collagen fibrils of reduced tensile strength, cell polarization was prevented. This suggested that both the high tensile strength and pliability of collagen fibrils contribute to the anisotropic rigidity of the matrix, leading to directional cellular traction and cell polarization. During alignment, cellular protrusions contacted the collagen matrix from below and above. This complex entanglement of cellular protrusions and collagen fibrils may further promote cell alignment by maximizing cellular traction.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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