Background information: Mechanical forces play an important role in the organization, growth and function of living tissues. The ability of cells to transduce mechanical signals is governed by two types of microscale structures: focal adhesions, which link cells to the extracellular matrix, and adherens junctions, which link adjacent cells through cadherins. Although many studies have examined forces induced by focal adhesions, there is little known about the role of adherens junctions in force-regulation processes. The present study focuses on the determination of force transduction through cadherins at a single cell level.
Results: We characterized for the first time the distribution of forces developed by the cell through cadherin contacts. A N-cadherin (neural cadherin)-Fc chimaera, which mimicks the cell adhesion molecule N-cadherin, was immobilized on a muFSA (micro-force sensor array), comprising a dense array of vertical elastomer pillars, which were used both as a cell culture support for N-cadherin-expressing C2 myogenic cells and as detectors for force mapping. We coated the top of the pillars on which cells adhere and recruit adhesion complexes and F-actin. Individual pillar bending allowed the measurement of forces that mainly developed at the cell edge and directed toward their centre. Similar force distribution and amplitude were detected with an unrelated cell line of neuronal origin. Further comparison with forces applied by cells on pillars coated with fibronectin indicates that mechanical stresses transduced through both types of adhesions were comparable in distribution, orientation and amplitude.
Conclusions: These results present a versatile method to measure and map forces exerted by cell-cell adhesion complexes. They show that cells transduce mechanical stress through cadherin contacts which are of the same order as magnitude of those previously characterized for focal adhesions. Altogether, they emphasize the mechanotransduction role of cytoskeleton-linked adhesion receptors of the cadherin family in tissue cohesion and reshaping.