Avoiding tensional equilibrium in cells migrating on a matrix with cell-scale stiffness-heterogeneity

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Intracellular stresses affect various cell functions, including proliferation, differentiation and movement, which are dynamically modulated in migrating cells through continuous cell-shaping and remodeling of the cytoskeletal architecture induced by spatiotemporal interactions with extracellular matrix stiffness. When cells migrate on a matrix with cell-scale stiffness-heterogeneity, which is a common situation in living tissues, what intracellular stress dynamics (ISD) emerge? In this study, to explore this issue, finite element method-based traction force microscopy was applied to cells migrating on microelastically patterned gels. Two model systems of microelastically patterned gels (stiff/soft stripe and stiff triangular patterns) were designed to characterize the effects of a spatial constraint on cell-shaping and of the presence of different types of cues to induce competing cellular taxis (usual and reverse durotaxis) on the ISD, respectively. As the main result, the prolonged fluctuation of traction stress on a whole-cell scale was markedly enhanced on single cell-size triangular stiff patterns compared with homogeneous gels. Such ISD enhancement was found to be derived from the interplay between the nomadic migration of cells to regions with different degrees of stiffness and domain shape-dependent traction force dynamics, which should be an essential factor for keeping cells far from tensional equilibrium.

Original languageEnglish
Article number120860
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biophysics
  • Bioengineering
  • Ceramics and Composites
  • Biomaterials
  • Mechanics of Materials


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