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J Cell Sci. 2010 May 15;123(Pt 10):1751-60. doi: 10.1242/jcs.066795. Epub 2010 Apr 27.

A new lock-step mechanism of matrix remodelling based on subcellular contractile events.

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Laboratory of Cell Biophysics, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, CH-1015 Lausanne, Switzerland.


Myofibroblasts promote tissue contractures during fibrotic diseases. To understand how spontaneous changes in the intracellular calcium concentration, [Ca(2+)](i), contribute to myofibroblast contraction, we analysed both [Ca(2+)](i) and subcellular contractions. Contractile events were assessed by tracking stress-fibre-linked microbeads and measured by atomic force microscopy. Myofibroblasts exhibit periodic (approximately 100 seconds) [Ca(2+)](i) oscillations that control small (approximately 400 nm) and weak (approximately 100 pN) contractions. Whereas depletion of [Ca(2+)](i) reduces these microcontractions, cell isometric tension is unaffected, as shown by growing cells on deformable substrates. Inhibition of Rho- and ROCK-mediated Ca(2+)-independent contraction has no effect on microcontractions, but abolishes cell tension. On the basis of this two-level regulation of myofibroblast contraction, we propose a single-cell lock-step model. Rho- and ROCK-dependent isometric tension generates slack in extracellular matrix fibrils, which are then accessible for the low-amplitude and high-frequency contractions mediated by [Ca(2+)](i). The joint action of both contraction modes can result in macroscopic tissue contractures of approximately 1 cm per month.

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