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J Cell Physiol. 2008 Oct;217(1):162-71. doi: 10.1002/jcp.21487.

Dynamic assessment of fibroblast mechanical activity during Rac-induced cell spreading in 3-D culture.

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Department of Ophthalmology, University of Texas, Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, Texas 75390-9057, USA.


The goal of this study was to determine the morphological and sub-cellular mechanical effects of Rac activation on fibroblasts within 3-D collagen matrices. Corneal fibroblasts were plated at low density inside 100 microm thick fibrillar collagen matrices and cultured for 1-2 days in serum-free media. Time-lapse imaging was then performed using Nomarski DIC. After an acclimation period, perfusion was switched to media containing PDGF. In some experiments, Y-27632 or blebbistatin were used to inhibit Rho-kinase (ROCK) or myosin II, respectively. PDGF activated Rac and induced cell spreading, which resulted in an increase in cell length, cell area, and the number of pseudopodial processes. Tractional forces were generated by extending pseudopodia, as indicated by centripetal displacement and realignment of collagen fibrils. Interestingly, the pattern of pseudopodial extension and local collagen fibril realignment was highly dependent upon the initial orientation of fibrils at the leading edge. Following ROCK or myosin II inhibition, significant ECM relaxation was observed, but small displacements of collagen fibrils continued to be detected at the tips of pseudopodia. Taken together, the data suggests that during Rac-induced cell spreading within 3-D matrices, there is a shift in the distribution of forces from the center to the periphery of corneal fibroblasts. ROCK mediates the generation of large myosin II-based tractional forces during cell spreading within 3-D collagen matrices, however residual forces can be generated at the tips of extending pseudopodia that are both ROCK and myosin II-independent.

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