Cells display a large variety of shapes when plated in classical culture conditions despite their belonging to a common cell type. These shapes are transitory, since cells permanently disassemble and reassemble their cytoskeleton while moving. Adhesive micropatterns are commonly used to confine cell shape within a given geometry. In addition the micropattern can be designed so as to impose cells to spread upon adhesive and nonadhesive areas. Modulation of the pattern geometry allows the analysis of the mechanisms governing the determination of cell shape in response to external adhesive conditions. In this study, we show that the acquisition of cell shape follows two stages where initially the cell forms contact with the micropattern. Here, the most distal contacts made by the cell with the micropattern define the apices of the cell shape. Then secondly, the cell borders that link two apices move so as to minimise the distance between the two apices. In these cell borders, the absence of an underlying adhesive substrate is overcome by stress fibres forming between the apices, which in turn are marked by an accumulation of focal adhesions. By inhibiting myosin function, cell borders on nonadhesive zones become more concave, suggesting that the stress fibres work against the membrane tension in the cell border. Moreover, this suggested that traction forces are unevenly distributed in stationary, nonmigrating, cells. By comparing the stress fibres in cells with one, two, or three nonadherent cell borders it was reasoned that stress fibre strength is inversely proportional to number. We conclude that cells of a given area can generate the same total sum of tractional forces but that these tractional forces are differently spaced depending on the spatial distribution of its adherence contacts.
Copyright 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.