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  1. null (Ed.)
    Mammalian cells have evolved complex mechanical connections to their microenvironment, including focal adhesion clusters that physically connect the cytoskeleton and the extracellular matrix. This mechanical link is also part of the cellular machinery to transduce, sense and respond to external forces. Although methods to measure cell attachment and cellular traction forces are well established, these are not capable of quantifying force transmission through the cell body to adhesion sites. We here present a novel approach to quantify intracellular force transmission by combining microneedle shearing at the apical cell surface with traction force microscopy at the basal cell surface. The change of traction forces exerted by fibroblasts to underlying polyacrylamide substrates as a response to a known shear force exerted with a calibrated microneedle reveals that cells redistribute forces dynamically under external shearing and during sequential rupture of their adhesion sites. Our quantitative results demonstrate a transition from dipolar to monopolar traction patterns, an inhomogeneous distribution of the external shear force to the adhesion sites as well as dynamical changes in force loading prior to and after the rupture of single adhesion sites. Our strategy of combining traction force microscopy with external force application opens new perspectives for future studies of force transmission and mechanotransduction in cells. 
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  2. null (Ed.)
  3. The mechanical properties of the cell nucleus are increasingly recognized as critical in many biological processes. The deformability of the nucleus determines the ability of immune and cancer cells to migrate through tissues and across endothelial cell layers, and changes to the mechanical properties of the nucleus can serve as novel biomarkers in processes such as cancer progression and stem cell differentiation. However, current techniques to measure the viscoelastic nuclear mechanical properties are often time consuming, limited to probing one cell at a time, or require expensive, highly specialized equipment. Furthermore, many current assays do not measure time-dependent properties, which are characteristic of viscoelastic materials. Here, we present an easy-to-use microfluidic device that applies the well-established approach of micropipette aspiration, adapted to measure many cells in parallel. The device design allows rapid loading and purging of cells for measurements, and minimizes clogging by large particles or clusters of cells. Combined with a semi-automated image analysis pipeline, the microfluidic device approach enables significantly increased experimental throughput. We validated the experimental platform by comparing computational models of the fluid mechanics in the device with experimental measurements of fluid flow. In addition, we conducted experiments on cells lacking the nuclear envelope protein lamin A/C and wild-type controls, which have well-characterized nuclear mechanical properties. Fitting time-dependent nuclear deformation data to power law and different viscoelastic models revealed that loss of lamin A/C significantly altered the elastic and viscous properties of the nucleus, resulting in substantially increased nuclear deformability. Lastly, to demonstrate the versatility of the devices, we characterized the viscoelastic nuclear mechanical properties in a variety of cell lines and experimental model systems, including human skin fibroblasts from an individual with a mutation in the lamin gene associated with dilated cardiomyopathy, healthy control fibroblasts, induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), and human tumor cells. Taken together, these experiments demonstrate the ability of the microfluidic device and automated image analysis platform to provide robust, high throughput measurements of nuclear mechanical properties, including time-dependent elastic and viscous behavior, in a broad range of applications. 
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  4. Cellular behavior is continuously affected by microenvironmental forces through the process of mechanotransduction, in which mechanical stimuli are rapidly converted to biochemical responses. Mounting evidence suggests that the nucleus itself is a mechanoresponsive element, reacting to cytoskeletal forces and mediating downstream biochemical responses. The nucleus responds through a host of mechanisms, including partial unfolding, conformational changes, and phosphorylation of nuclear envelope proteins; modulation of nuclear import/export; and altered chromatin organization, resulting in transcriptional changes. It is unclear which of these events present direct mechanotransduction processes and which are downstream of other mechanotransduction pathways. We critically review and discuss the current evidence for nuclear mechanotransduction, particularly in the context of stem cell fate, a largely unexplored topic, and in disease, where an improved understanding of nuclear mechanotransduction is beginning to open new treatment avenues. Finally, we discuss innovative technological developments that will allow outstanding questions in the rapidly growing field of nuclear mechanotransduction to be answered. 
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  5. Cancer cell migration through narrow constrictions generates compressive stresses on the nucleus that deform it and cause rupture of nuclear membranes. Nuclear membrane rupture allows uncontrolled exchange between nuclear and cytoplasmic contents. Local tensile stresses can also cause nuclear deformations, but whether such deformations are accompanied by nuclear membrane rupture is unknown. Here we used a direct force probe to locally deform the nucleus by applying a transient tensile stress to the nuclear membrane. We found that a transient (∼0.2 s) deformation (∼1% projected area strain) in normal mammary epithelial cells (MCF-10A cells) was sufficient to cause rupture of the nuclear membrane. Nuclear membrane rupture scaled with the magnitude of nuclear deformation and the magnitude of applied tensile stress. Comparison of diffusive fluxes of nuclear probes between wild-type and lamin-depleted MCF-10A cells revealed that lamin A/C, but not lamin B2, protects the nuclear membranes against rupture from tensile stress. Our results suggest that transient nuclear deformations typically caused by local tensile stresses are sufficient to cause nuclear membrane rupture. 
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