Fine tuning of tissues' viscosity and surface tension through contractility suggests a new role for α-catenin

PLoS One. 2013;8(2):e52554. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0052554. Epub 2013 Feb 4.


What governs tissue organization and movement? If molecular and genetic approaches are able to give some answers on these issues, more and more works are now giving a real importance to mechanics as a key component eventually triggering further signaling events. We chose embryonic cell aggregates as model systems for tissue organization and movement in order to investigate the origin of some mechanical constraints arising from cells organization. Steinberg et al. proposed a long time ago an analogy between liquids and tissues and showed that indeed tissues possess a measurable tissue surface tension and viscosity. We question here the molecular origin of these parameters and give a quantitative measurement of adhesion versus contractility in the framework of the differential interfacial tension hypothesis. Accompanying surface tension measurements by angle measurements (at vertexes of cell-cell contacts) at the cell/medium interface, we are able to extract the full parameters of this model: cortical tensions and adhesion energy. We show that a tunable surface tension and viscosity can be achieved easily through the control of cell-cell contractility compared to cell-medium one. Moreover we show that α-catenin is crucial for this regulation to occur: these molecules appear as a catalyser for the remodeling of the actin cytoskeleton underneath cell-cell contact, enabling a differential contractility between the cell-medium and cell-cell interface to take place.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Actin Cytoskeleton / chemistry*
  • Actin Cytoskeleton / metabolism
  • Amides / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Cell Adhesion / drug effects
  • Cell Communication / drug effects
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Movement / drug effects
  • Computer Simulation
  • Embryo, Mammalian
  • Gene Knockout Techniques
  • Heterocyclic Compounds, 4 or More Rings / pharmacology
  • Mechanotransduction, Cellular / drug effects*
  • Mice
  • Nocodazole / pharmacology
  • Pyridines / pharmacology
  • Surface Tension / drug effects
  • Viscosity / drug effects
  • alpha Catenin / chemistry*
  • alpha Catenin / genetics
  • alpha Catenin / metabolism


  • Amides
  • Heterocyclic Compounds, 4 or More Rings
  • Pyridines
  • alpha Catenin
  • Y 27632
  • blebbistatin
  • Nocodazole

Grant support

This work was supported by Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR JCJC 2005). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.