Stretch activation of cation-permeable channels may be an important proximal sensory mechanism in mechanotransduction. As actin filaments may mediate cellular responses to changes of the mechanical properties of the substrate and regulate stretch-induced calcium transients, we examined the role of actin filaments and substrate flexibility in modulating the amplitude of stretch-activated intracellular calcium transients. Human gingival fibroblasts were subjected to mechanical stretch through integrins by magnetic force acting on collagen-coated ferric oxide beads. Intracellular calcium concentration was measured in fura-2-loaded cells by ratio fluorimetry. Cytochalasin D-treatment greatly increased (3-fold) the amplitude of stretch-activated calcium transients in well-spread cells grown on glass coverslips while phalloidin, colchicine or taxol exerted no signficant effects, indicating that actin filaments but not microtubules modulate stretch-activated calcium transients. In freshly plated cells with rounded shapes and poorly developed cortical actin filaments, stretch-induced calcium transients were of 3-fold higher amplitude than well-spread cells plated for 6-24 hrs and with well developed actin filaments. Cells plated on soft collagen-polyacrylamide gels showed round morphology but exhibited <50% of the response to stretch of well-spread cells on inflexible gels. Notably, cells on soft gels showed very heavy phalloidin staining for cortical actin filaments compared with cells on more inflexible surfaces which showed only light staining for cortical actin. While cell shape may have some effect on responsiveness to mechanical stretch, the rigidity of the cell membrane mediated by the extensive cortical actin network appears to be a central determinant in the regulation of stretch-induced calcium signals.
Copyright 1999 Academic Press.