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Tissue Cell. 1990;22(4):407-17.

Cell locomotion forces versus cell contraction forces for collagen lattice contraction: an in vitro model of wound contraction.

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Shriner Burns Institute, Department of Pathology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston 02114.


Cultured human dermal fibroblasts suspended in a rapidly polymerizing collagen matrix produce a fibroblast-populated collagen lattice. With time, this lattice will undergo a reduction in size referred to as lattice contraction. During this process, two distinct cell populations develop. At the periphery of the lattice, highly oriented sheets of cells, morphologically identifiable as myofibroblasts, show cell-to-cell contacts and thick, actin-rich staining cytoplasmic stress fibers. It is proposed that these cells undergoing cell contraction produce a multicellular contractile unit which reorients the collagen fibrils associated with them. The cells in the central region, referred to as fibroblasts, are randomly oriented, with few cell-to-cell contacts and faintly staining actin cytoplasmic filaments. In contrast it is proposed that cells working as single units use cell locomotion forces to reorient the collagen fibrils associated with them. Using this model, we sought to determine which of these two mechanisms, cell contraction or cell locomotion, is responsible for the force that contracts collagen lattices. Our experiments showed that fibroblasts produce this contractile force, and that the mechanism for lattice contraction appears to be related to cell locomotion. This is in contrast to a myofibroblast; where the mechanism for contraction is based upon cell contractions. Fibroblasts attempting to move within the collagen matrix reorganize the surrounding collagen fibrils; when these collagen fibrils can be organized no further and cell-to-cell contacts develop, which occurs at the periphery of the lattice first, these cells can no longer participate in the dynamic aspects of lattice contraction.

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