The role of prestress and architecture of the cytoskeleton and deformability of cytoskeletal filaments in mechanics of adherent cells: a quantitative analysis

J Theor Biol. 1999 Nov 7;201(1):63-74. doi: 10.1006/jtbi.1999.1014.


Mechanical properties of adherent cells were investigated using methods of engineering mechanics. The cytoskeleton (CSK) was modeled as a filamentous network and key mechanisms and corresponding molecular structures which determine cell elastic behavior were identified. Three models of the CSK were considered: open-cell foam networks, prestressed cable nets, and a tensegrity model as a special case of the latter. For each model, the modulus of elasticity (i.e. an index of resistance to small deformation) was given as a function of mechanical and geometrical properties of CSK filaments whose values were determined from the data in the literature. Quantitative predictions for the elastic modulus were compared with data obtained previously from mechanical tests on adherent cells. The open-cell foam model yielded the elastic modulus (10(3)-10(4)Pa) which was consistent with measurements which apply a large compressive stress to the cell. This suggests that bending of CSK filaments is the key mechanism for resisting large compression. The prestressed cable net and tensegrity model yielded much lower elastic moduli (10(1)-10(2)Pa) which were consistent with values determined from equilibrium measurements at low applied stress. This suggests that CSK prestress and architecture are the primary determinants of the cell elastic response. The tensegrity model revealed the possibility that buckling of microtubules of the CSK also contributed to cell elasticity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Cell Adhesion / physiology*
  • Cytoskeleton / physiology*
  • Elasticity
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological*
  • Stress, Mechanical