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Biophys J. 2009 Mar 4;96(5):2009-22. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2008.10.072.

Prestress and adhesion site dynamics control cell sensitivity to extracellular stiffness.

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Institut National de la Sauté et de la Recherche Médicale, Unité Mixte de Recherche 955, Institut Mondor de Recherche Biomédicale, Biomécanique Cellulaire et Respiratoire, Cérteil, France.


This study aims at improving the understanding of mechanisms responsible for cell sensitivity to extracellular environment. We explain how substrate mechanical properties can modulate the force regulation of cell sensitive elements primarily adhesion sites. We present a theoretical and experimental comparison between two radically different approaches of the force regulation of adhesion sites that depends on their either stationary or dynamic behavior. The most classical stationary model fails to predict cell sensitivity to substrate stiffness whereas the dynamic model predicts extracellular stiffness dependence. This is due to a time dependent reaction force in response to actomyosin traction force exerted on cell sensitive elements. We purposely used two cellular models, i.e., alveolar epithelial cells and alveolar macrophages exhibiting respectively stationary and dynamic adhesion sites, and compared their sensitivity to theoretical predictions. Mechanical and structural results show that alveolar epithelial cells exhibit significant prestress supported by evident stress fibers and lacks sensitivity to substrate stiffness. On the other hand, alveolar macrophages exhibit low prestress and exhibit sensitivity to substrate stiffness. Altogether, theory and experiments consistently show that adhesion site dynamics and cytoskeleton prestress control cell sensitivity to extracellular environment with an optimal sensitivity expected in the intermediate range.

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