Traction forces between adhesive cells play an important role in a number of collective cell processes. Intercellular contacts, in particular cadherin-based intercellular junctions, are the major means of transmitting force within tissues. We investigated the effect of cellular tension on the formation of cadherin-cadherin contacts by spreading cells on substrates with tunable stiffness coated with N-cadherin homophilic ligands. On the most rigid substrates, cells appear well-spread and present cadherin adhesions and cytoskeletal organization similar to those classically observed on cadherin-coated glass substrates. However, when cells are cultured on softer substrates, a change in morphology is observed: the cells are less spread, with a more disorganized actin network. A quantitative analysis of the cells adhering on the cadherin-coated surfaces shows that forces are correlated with the formation of cadherin adhesions. The stiffer the substrates, the larger are the average traction forces and the more developed are the cadherin adhesions. When cells are treated with blebbistatin to inhibit myosin II, the forces decrease and the cadherin adhesions disappear. Together, these findings are consistent with a mechanosensitive regulation of cadherin-mediated intercellular junctions through the cellular contractile machinery.
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