Force transduction and strain dynamics in actin stress fibres in response to nanonewton forces

J Cell Sci. 2012 Feb 1;125(Pt 3):603-13. doi: 10.1242/jcs.088302.


It is becoming clear that mechanical stimuli are crucial factors in regulating the biology of the cell, but the short-term structural response of a cell to mechanical forces remains relatively poorly understood. We mechanically stimulated cells transiently expressing actin-EGFP with controlled forces (0-20 nN) in order to investigate the structural response of the cell. Two clear force-dependent responses were observed: a short-term (seconds) local deformation of actin stress fibres and a long-term (minutes) force-induced remodelling of stress fibres at cell edges, far from the point of contact. By photobleaching markers along stress fibres we were also able to quantify strain dynamics occurring along the fibres throughout the cell. The results reveal that the cell exhibits complex heterogeneous negative and positive strain fluctuations along stress fibres in resting cells that indicate localized contraction and stretch dynamics. The application of mechanical force results in the activation of myosin contractile activity reflected in an ~50% increase in strain fluctuations. This approach has allowed us to directly observe the activation of myosin in response to mechanical force and the effects of cytoskeletal crosslinking on local deformation and strain dynamics. The results demonstrate that force application does not result in simplistic isotropic deformation of the cytoarchitecture, but rather a complex and localized response that is highly dependent on an intact microtubule network. Direct visualization of force-propagation and stress fibre strain dynamics have revealed several crucial phenomena that take place and ultimately govern the downstream response of a cell to a mechanical stimulus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Actin Cytoskeleton / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Biophysical Phenomena
  • Cytoskeleton / drug effects
  • Cytoskeleton / metabolism
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / metabolism
  • Mechanotransduction, Cellular / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Microscopy, Atomic Force
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Microtubules / metabolism
  • Models, Biological
  • Myosins / metabolism
  • NIH 3T3 Cells
  • Nanotechnology
  • Photobleaching
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / metabolism
  • Stress, Mechanical


  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins
  • enhanced green fluorescent protein
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • Myosins