Mechanical cues can influence the manner in which cells generate traction forces and form focal adhesions. The stiffness of a cell's substrate and the available area on which it can spread can influence its generation of traction forces, but to what extent these factors are intertwined is unclear. In this study, we used microcontact printing and micropost arrays to control cell spreading, substrate stiffness, and post density to assess their effect on traction forces and focal adhesions. We find that both the spread area and the substrate stiffness influence traction forces in an independent manner, but these factors have opposite effects: cells on stiffer substrates produce higher average forces, whereas cells with larger spread areas generate lower average forces. We show that post density influences the generation of traction forces in a manner that is more dominant than the effect of spread area. Additionally, we observe that focal adhesions respond to spread area, substrate stiffness, and post density in a manner that closely matches the trends seen for traction forces. This work supports the notion that traction forces and focal adhesions have a close relationship in their response to mechanical cues.
Copyright © 2012 Biophysical Society. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.