Mechanical stimulation is recognized as a potent modulator of cellular behaviors such as proliferation, differentiation, and extracellular matrix assembly. However, the study of how cell-generated traction force changes in response to stretch is generally limited to short-term stimulation. The goal of this work is to determine how cells actively alter their traction force in response to long-term physiological cyclic stretch as a function of cell pre-stress. We have developed, to our knowledge, a novel method to assess traction force after long-term (24 h) uniaxial or biaxial cyclic stretch under conditions of high cell pre-stress with culture on stiff (7.5 kPa) polyacrylamide gels (with or without transforming growth factor β1 (TGF-β1)) and low pre-stress by treating with blebbistatin or culture on soft gels (0.6 kPa). In response to equibiaxial stretch, valvular interstitial cells on stiff substrates decreased their traction force (from 300 nN to 100 nN) and spread area (from 3000 to 2100 μm2). With uniaxial stretch, the cells had similar decreases in traction force and area and reoriented perpendicular to the stretch. TGF-β1-treated valvular interstitial cells had higher pre-stress (1100 nN) and exhibited a larger drop in traction force with uniaxial stretch, but the percentage changes in force and area with stretch were similar to the non-TGF-β1-treated group. Cells with inhibited myosin II motors increased traction force (from 41 nN to 63 nN) and slightly reoriented toward the stretch direction. In contrast, cells cultured on soft gels increased their traction force significantly, from 15 nN to 45 nN, doubled their spread area, elongated from an initially rounded morphology, and reoriented perpendicular to the uniaxial stretch. Contractile-moment measurements provided results consistent with total traction force measurements. The combined results indicate that the change in traction force in response to external cyclic stretch is dependent upon the initial cell pre-stress. This finding is consistent with depolymerization of initially high-tension actin stress fibers, and reinforcement of an initially low-tension actin cytoskeleton.
Cirka, H., Monterosso, M., Diamantides, N., Favreau, J., Wen, Q., & Billiar, K. (2016). Active traction force response to long-term cyclic stretch is dependent on cell pre-stress. Biophysical Journal, 110(8), 1845-1857. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bpj.2016.02.036
*denotes a WPI undergraduate student author