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PLoS One. 2012;7(12):e45512. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0045512. Epub 2012 Dec 27.

Physically-induced cytoskeleton remodeling of cells in three-dimensional culture.

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Department of Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science, Washington University, St. Louis, MO, USA.


Characterizing how cells in three-dimensional (3D) environments or natural tissues respond to biophysical stimuli is a longstanding challenge in biology and tissue engineering. We demonstrate a strategy to monitor morphological and mechanical responses of contractile fibroblasts in a 3D environment. Cells responded to stretch through specific, cell-wide mechanisms involving staged retraction and reinforcement. Retraction responses occurred for all orientations of stress fibers and cellular protrusions relative to the stretch direction, while reinforcement responses, including extension of cellular processes and stress fiber formation, occurred predominantly in the stretch direction. A previously unreported role of F-actin clumps was observed, with clumps possibly acting as F-actin reservoirs for retraction and reinforcement responses during stretch. Responses were consistent with a model of cellular sensitivity to local physical cues. These findings suggest mechanisms for global actin cytoskeleton remodeling in non-muscle cells and provide insight into cellular responses important in pathologies such as fibrosis and hypertension.

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