A cytoskeletal clutch mediates cellular force transmission in a soft, three-dimensional extracellular matrix

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

  • Leanna M. Owen
  • Arjun S. Adhikari
  • Mohak Patel
  • Peter Grimmer
  • Leijnse, Natascha
  • Min Cheol Kim
  • Jacob Notbohm
  • Christian Franck
  • Alexander R. Dunn

The ability of cells to impart forces and deformations on their surroundings underlies cell migration and extracellular matrix (ECM) remodeling and is thus an essential aspect of complex, metazoan life. Previous work has resulted in a refined understanding, commonly termed the molecular clutch model, of how cells adhering to flat surfaces such as a microscope coverslip transmit cytoskeletally generated forces to their surroundings. Comparatively less is known about how cells adhere to and exert forces in soft, three-dimensional (3D), and structurally heterogeneous ECM environments such as occur in vivo. We used time-lapse 3D imaging and quantitative image analysis to determine how the actin cytoskeleton is mechanically coupled to the surrounding matrix for primary dermal fibroblasts embedded in a 3D fibrin matrix. Under these circumstances, the cytoskeletal architecture is dominated by contractile actin bundles attached at their ends to large, stable, integrin-based adhesions. Time-lapse imaging reveals that α-actinin-1 puncta within actomyosin bundles move more quickly than the paxillin-rich adhesion plaques, which in turn move more quickly than the local matrix, an observation reminiscent of the molecular clutch model. However, closer examination did not reveal a continuous rearward flow of the actin cytoskeleton over slower moving adhesions. Instead, we found that a subset of stress fibers continuously elongated at their attachment points to integrin adhesions, providing stable, yet structurally dynamic coupling to the ECM. Analytical modeling and numerical simulation provide a plausible physical explanation for this result and support a picture in which cells respond to the effective stiffness of local matrix attachment points. The resulting dynamic equilibrium can explain how cells maintain stable, contractile connections to discrete points within ECM during cell migration, and provides a plausible means by which fibroblasts contract provisional matrices during wound healing.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMolecular Biology of the Cell
Issue number14
Pages (from-to)1959-1974
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jul 2017
Externally publishedYes

ID: 258630211