Stress fields emerging from the transfer of forces between cells within multicellular systems are increasingly being recognized as major determinants of cell fate. Current analytical and numerical models used for the calculation of stresses within cell monolayers assume homogeneous contractile and mechanical cellular properties; however, cell behavior varies by region within constrained tissues. Here, we show the impact of heterogeneous cell properties on resulting stress fields that guide cell phenotype and apoptosis. Using circular micropatterns, we measured biophysical metrics associated with cell mechanical stresses. We then computed cell-layer stress distributions using finite element contraction models and monolayer stress microscopy. In agreement with previous studies, cell spread area, alignment, and traction forces increase, whereas apoptotic activity decreases, from the center of cell layers to the edge. The distribution of these metrics clearly indicates low cell stress in central regions and high cell stress at the periphery of the patterns. However, the opposite trend is predicted by computational models when homogeneous contractile and mechanical properties are assumed. In our model, utilizing heterogeneous cell-layer contractility and elastic moduli values based on experimentally measured biophysical parameters, we calculate low cell stress in central areas and high anisotropic stresses in peripheral regions, consistent with the biometrics. These results clearly demonstrate that common assumptions of uniformity in cell contractility and stiffness break down in postconfluence confined multicellular systems. This work highlights the importance of incorporating regional variations in cell mechanical properties when estimating emergent stress fields from collective cell behavior.
Goldblatt, Z. E., Ashouri Choshali, H., Cirka, H. A., Liang, V., Wen, Q., McCollum, D., … Billiar, K. L. (2020). Heterogeneity profoundly alters emergent stress fields in constrained multicellular systems. Biophysical Journal. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bpj.2019.11.018
*denotes a WPI undergraduate student author