Cell Adhesion Strength Is Controlled by Intermolecular Spacing of Adhesion Receptors

Biophys J. 2010 Feb 17;98(4):543-51. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2009.11.001.


Spatial patterning of biochemical cues on the micro- and nanometer scale controls numerous cellular processes such as spreading, adhesion, migration, and proliferation. Using force microscopy we show that the lateral spacing of individual integrin receptor-ligand bonds determines the strength of cell adhesion. For spacings > or = 90 nm, focal contact formation was inhibited and the detachment forces as well as the stiffness of the cell body were significantly decreased compared to spacings < or = 50 nm. Analyzing cell detachment at the subcellular level revealed that rupture forces of focal contacts increase with loading rate as predicted by a theoretical model for adhesion clusters. Furthermore, we show that the weak link between the intra- and extracellular space is at the intracellular side of a focal contact. Our results show that cells can amplify small differences in adhesive cues to large differences in cell adhesion strength.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Cell Adhesion
  • Cell Line
  • Elasticity
  • Integrins / metabolism*
  • Kinetics
  • Ligands
  • Nanotechnology
  • Peptides, Cyclic / chemistry
  • Peptides, Cyclic / metabolism


  • Integrins
  • Ligands
  • Peptides, Cyclic
  • cyclic arginine-glycine-aspartic acid peptide