skip to main content

Title: Pervasive cytoquakes in the actomyosin cortex across cell types and substrate stiffness

The actomyosin cytoskeleton enables cells to resist deformation, crawl, change their shape and sense their surroundings. Despite decades of study, how its molecular constituents can assemble together to form a network with the observed mechanics of cells remains poorly understood. Recently, it has been shown that the actomyosin cortex of quiescent cells can undergo frequent, abrupt reconfigurations and displacements, called cytoquakes. Notably, such fluctuations are not predicted by current physical models of actomyosin networks, and their prevalence across cell types and mechanical environments has not previously been studied. Using micropost array detectors, we have performed high-resolution measurements of the dynamic mechanical fluctuations of cells’ actomyosin cortex and stress fiber networks. This reveals cortical dynamics dominated by cytoquakes—intermittent events with a fat-tailed distribution of displacements, sometimes spanning microposts separated by 4 μm, in all cell types studied. These included 3T3 fibroblasts, where cytoquakes persisted over substrate stiffnesses spanning the tissue-relevant range of 4.3 kPa–17 kPa, and primary neonatal rat cardiac fibroblasts and myofibroblasts, human embryonic kidney cells and human bone osteosarcoma epithelial (U2OS) cells, where cytoquakes were observed on substrates in the same stiffness range. Overall, these findings suggest that the cortex self-organizes into a marginally stable mechanical state whose physics may contribute more » to cell mechanical properties, active behavior and mechanosensing.

« less
; ; ; ; ; ;
Award ID(s):
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Integrative Biology
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
p. 246-257
Oxford University Press
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Both animal and plant tissue exhibit a nonlinear rheological phenomenon known as compression stiffening, or an increase in moduli with increasing uniaxial compressive strain. Does such a phenomenon exist in single cells, which are the building blocks of tissues? One expects an individual cell to compression soften since the semiflexible biopolymer-based cytoskeletal network maintains the mechanical integrity of the cell and in vitro semiflexible biopolymer networks typically compression soften. To the contrary, we find that mouse embryonic fibroblasts (mEFs) compression stiffen under uniaxial compression via atomic force microscopy studies. To understand this finding, we uncover several potential mechanisms for compression stiffening. First, we study a single semiflexible polymer loop modeling the actomyosin cortex enclosing a viscous medium modeled as an incompressible fluid. Second, we study a two-dimensional semiflexible polymer/fiber network interspersed with area-conserving loops, which are a proxy for vesicles and fluid-based organelles. Third, we study two-dimensional fiber networks with angular-constraining crosslinks, i.e. semiflexible loops on the mesh scale. In the latter two cases, the loops act as geometric constraints on the fiber network to help stiffen it via increased angular interactions. We find that the single semiflexible polymer loop model agrees well with the experimental cell compression stiffening findingmore »until approximately 35% compressive strain after which bulk fiber network effects may contribute. We also find for the fiber network with area-conserving loops model that the stress–strain curves are sensitive to the packing fraction and size distribution of the area-conserving loops, thereby creating a mechanical fingerprint across different cell types. Finally, we make comparisons between this model and experiments on fibrin networks interlaced with beads as well as discuss implications for single cell compression stiffening at the tissue scale.« less
  2. The eukaryotic cell's cytoskeleton is a prototypical example of an active material: objects embedded within it are driven by molecular motors acting on the cytoskeleton, leading to anomalous diffusive behavior. Experiments tracking the behavior of cell-attached objects have observed anomalous diffusion with a distribution of displacements that is non-Gaussian, with heavy tails. This has been attributed to “cytoquakes” or other spatially extended collective effects. We show, using simulations and analytical theory, that a simple continuum active gel model driven by fluctuating force dipoles naturally creates heavy power-law tails in cytoskeletal displacements. We predict that this power law exponent should depend on the geometry and dimensionality of where force dipoles are distributed through the cell; we find qualitatively different results for force dipoles in a 3D cytoskeleton and a quasi-two-dimensional cortex. We then discuss potential applications of this model both in cells and in synthetic active gels.
  3. Actomyosin networks give cells the ability to move and divide. These networks contract and expand while being driven by active energy-consuming processes such as motor protein walking and actin polymerization. Actin dynamics is also regulated by actin-binding proteins, such as the actin-related protein 2/3 (Arp2/3) complex. This complex generates branched filaments, thereby changing the overall organization of the network. In this work, the spatiotemporal patterns of dynamical actin assembly accompanying the branching-induced reorganization caused by Arp2/3 were studied using a computational model (mechanochemical dynamics of active networks [MEDYAN]); this model simulates actomyosin network dynamics as a result of chemical reactions whose rates are modulated by rapid mechanical equilibration. We show that branched actomyosin networks relax significantly more slowly than do unbranched networks. Also, branched networks undergo rare convulsive movements, “avalanches,” that release strain in the network. These avalanches are associated with the more heterogeneous distribution of mechanically linked filaments displayed by branched networks. These far-from-equilibrium events arising from the marginal stability of growing actomyosin networks provide a possible mechanism of the “cytoquakes” recently seen in experiments.

  4. Abstract

    Vasculogenesis is thede novoformation of a vascular network from individual endothelial progenitor cells occurring during embryonic development, organogenesis, and adult neovascularization. Vasculogenesis can be mimicked and studiedin vitrousing network formation assays, in which endothelial cells (ECs) spontaneously form capillary-like structures when seeded in the appropriate microenvironment. While the biochemical regulators of network formation have been well studied using these assays, the role of mechanical and topographical properties of the extracellular matrix (ECM) is less understood. Here, we utilized both natural and synthetic fibrous materials to better understand how physical attributes of the ECM influence the assembly of EC networks. Our results reveal that active cell-mediated matrix recruitment through actomyosin force generation occurs concurrently with network formation on Matrigel, a reconstituted basement membrane matrix regularly used to promote EC networks, and on synthetic matrices composed of electrospun dextran methacrylate (DexMA) fibers. Furthermore, modulating physical attributes of DexMA matrices that impair matrix recruitment consequently inhibited the formation of cellular networks. These results suggest an iterative process in which dynamic cell-induced changes to the physical microenvironment reciprocally modulate cell behavior to guide the formation and stabilization of multicellular networks.

  5. Despite the ubiquitous importance of cell contact guidance, the signal-inducing contact guidance of mammalian cells in an aligned fibril network has defied elucidation. This is due to multiple interdependent signals that an aligned fibril network presents to cells, including, at least, anisotropy of adhesion, porosity, and mechanical resistance. By forming aligned fibrin gels with the same alignment strength, but cross-linked to different extents, the anisotropic mechanical resistance hypothesis of contact guidance was tested for human dermal fibroblasts. The cross-linking was shown to increase the mechanical resistance anisotropy, without detectable change in network microstructure and without change in cell adhesion to the cross-linked fibrin gel. This methodology thus isolated anisotropic mechanical resistance as a variable for fixed anisotropy of adhesion and porosity. The mechanical resistance anisotropy |Y*|−1− |X*|−1increased over fourfold in terms of the Fourier magnitudes of microbead displacement |X*| and |Y*| at the drive frequency with respect to alignment directionYobtained by optical forces in active microrheology. Cells were found to exhibit stronger contact guidance in the cross-linked gels possessing greater mechanical resistance anisotropy: the cell anisotropy index based on the tensor of cell orientation, which has a range 0 to 1, increased by 18% with the fourfold increase in mechanicalmore »resistance anisotropy. We also show that modulation of adhesion via function-blocking antibodies can modulate the guidance response, suggesting a concomitant role of cell adhesion. These results indicate that fibroblasts can exhibit contact guidance in aligned fibril networks by sensing anisotropy of network mechanical resistance.

    « less