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  1. Abstract

    Cellular mechanics encompass both mechanical properties that resist forces applied by the external environment and internally generated forces applied at the location of cell–cell and cell–matrix junctions. Here, the authors demonstrate that microindentation of cellular domes formed by cell monolayers that locally lift off the substrate provides insight into both aspects of cellular mechanics in multicellular structures. Using a modified Hertz contact equation, the force–displacement curves generated by a micro‐tensiometer are used to measure an effective dome stiffness. The results indicate the domes are consistent with the Laplace–Young relationship for elastic membranes, regardless of biochemical modulation of the RhoA‐ROCK signaling axis. In contrast, activating RhoA, and inhibiting ROCK both alter the relaxation dynamics of the domes deformed by the micro‐tensiometer, revealing an approach to interrogate the role of RhoA‐ROCK signaling in multicellular mechanics. A finite element model incorporating a Mooney–Rivlin hyperelastic constitutive equation to describe monolayer mechanics predicts effective stiffness values that are consistent with the micro‐tensiometer measurements, verifying previous measurements of the response of cell monolayers to tension. Overall, these studies establish microindentation of fluid‐filled domes as an avenue to investigate the contribution of cell‐generated forces to the mechanics of multicellular structures.

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  2. Abstract

    Infection of human cells by pathogens, including SARS‐CoV‐2, typically proceeds by cell surface binding to a crucial receptor. The primary receptor for SARS‐CoV‐2 is the angiotensin‐converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), yet new studies reveal the importance of additional extracellular co‐receptors that mediate binding and host cell invasion by SARS‐CoV‐2. Vimentin is an intermediate filament protein that is increasingly recognized as being present on the extracellular surface of a subset of cell types, where it can bind to and facilitate pathogens’ cellular uptake. Biophysical and cell infection studies are done to determine whether vimentin might bind SARS‐CoV‐2 and facilitate its uptake. Dynamic light scattering shows that vimentin binds to pseudovirus coated with the SARS‐CoV‐2 spike protein, and antibodies against vimentin block in vitro SARS‐CoV‐2 pseudovirus infection of ACE2‐expressing cells. The results are consistent with a model in which extracellular vimentin acts as a co‐receptor for SARS‐CoV‐2 spike protein with a binding affinity less than that of the spike protein with ACE2. Extracellular vimentin may thus serve as a critical component of the SARS‐CoV‐2 spike protein‐ACE2 complex in mediating SARS‐CoV‐2 cell entry, and vimentin‐targeting agents may yield new therapeutic strategies for preventing and slowing SARS‐CoV‐2 infection.

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  3. Abstract

    The migration of cells through constricting spaces or along fibrous tracks in tissues is important for many biological processes and depends on the mechanical properties of a cytoskeleton made up of three different filaments: F‐actin, microtubules, and intermediate filaments. The signaling pathways and cytoskeletal structures that control cell motility on 2D are often very different from those that control motility in 3D. Previous studies have shown that intermediate filaments can promote actin‐driven protrusions at the cell edge, but have little effect on overall motility of cells on flat surfaces. They are however important for cells to maintain resistance to repeated compressive stresses that are expected to occur in vivo. Using mouse embryonic fibroblasts derived from wild‐type and vimentin‐null mice, it is found that loss of vimentin increases motility in 3D microchannels even though on flat surfaces it has the opposite effect. Atomic force microscopy and traction force microscopy experiments reveal that vimentin enhances perinuclear cell stiffness while maintaining the same level of acto‐myosin contractility in cells. A minimal model in which a perinuclear vimentin cage constricts along with the nucleus during motility through confining spaces, providing mechanical resistance against large strains that could damage the structural integrity of cells, is proposed.

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