Mechanical behavior in living cells consistent with the tensegrity model

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2001 Jul 3;98(14):7765-70. doi: 10.1073/pnas.141199598.


Alternative models of cell mechanics depict the living cell as a simple mechanical continuum, porous filament gel, tensed cortical membrane, or tensegrity network that maintains a stabilizing prestress through incorporation of discrete structural elements that bear compression. Real-time microscopic analysis of cells containing GFP-labeled microtubules and associated mitochondria revealed that living cells behave like discrete structures composed of an interconnected network of actin microfilaments and microtubules when mechanical stresses are applied to cell surface integrin receptors. Quantitation of cell tractional forces and cellular prestress by using traction force microscopy confirmed that microtubules bear compression and are responsible for a significant portion of the cytoskeletal prestress that determines cell shape stability under conditions in which myosin light chain phosphorylation and intracellular calcium remained unchanged. Quantitative measurements of both static and dynamic mechanical behaviors in cells also were consistent with specific a priori predictions of the tensegrity model. These findings suggest that tensegrity represents a unified model of cell mechanics that may help to explain how mechanical behaviors emerge through collective interactions among different cytoskeletal filaments and extracellular adhesions in living cells.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Cell Physiological Phenomena*
  • Cytoskeleton / physiology*
  • Cytoskeleton / ultrastructure
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • Humans
  • Luminescent Proteins
  • Models, Biological
  • Molecular Motor Proteins / physiology


  • Luminescent Proteins
  • Molecular Motor Proteins
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins