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Biophys J. 2008 Dec 15;95(12):6060-71. doi: 10.1529/biophysj.108.133462. Epub 2008 Sep 26.

Mechanical properties of actin stress fibers in living cells.

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Department of Biomedical Engineering, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri 63130, USA.


Actin stress fibers (SFs) play an important role in many cellular functions, including morphological stability, adhesion, and motility. Because of their central role in force transmission, it is important to characterize the mechanical properties of SFs. However, most of the existing studies focus on properties of whole cells or of actin filaments isolated outside cells. In this study, we explored the mechanical properties of individual SFs in living endothelial cells by nanoindentation using an atomic force microscope. Our results demonstrate the pivotal role of SF actomyosin contractile level on mechanical properties. In the same SF, decreasing contractile level with 10 microM blebbistatin decreased stiffness, whereas increasing contractile level with 2 nM calyculin A increased stiffness. Incrementally stretching and indenting SFs made it possible to determine stiffness as a function of strain level and demonstrated that SFs have nearly linear stress-stain properties in the baseline state but nonlinear properties at a lower contractile level. The stiffnesses of peripheral and central portions of the same SF, which were nearly the same in the baseline state, became markedly different after contractile level was increased with calyculin A. Because these results pertain to effects of interventions in the same SF in a living cell, they provide important new understanding about cell mechanics.

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