Actin cytoskeletons, aggregated with myosin II, generate intracellular cytoskeletal tension, which is induced to cell attaching substrate as cell traction forces. It is thought that cytoskeletal tension links closely to cell functions. The present study examined quantitative relationships between cytoskeleton tension and the balance of cell metabolism of tenocytes. Using micromachining techniques, micropillar substrates were prepared with polydimethylsiloxane, having three different values of substrate elasticity (6, 18 and 33 kPa) by changing the micropillar height. After 24h incubation of bovine tenocytes on these micropillar substrates, cell traction forces were determined. Gene expressions for type I collagen (anabolic marker) and MMP-1 (catabolic marker) from tenocytes on micropillars were also analyzed with qPCR. In addition, effects of an inhibition of myosin II activity on tenocyte cytoskeletal tension and metabolism were examined using the inhibitor, blebbistatin. It was exhibited that cell traction forces were significantly larger in tenocytes on 33 kPa substrates compared to those on 6 kPa substrates. This was associated with significant lower expression of MMP-1 mRNA on 33 kPa substrates. Cell traction forces were decreased significantly by the supplementation of blebbistatin in a dose-dependent manner. Indeed, there were significant smaller traction forces and higher expression for MMP-1 mRNA from tenocytes treated with 10 μM blebbistatin compared to their corresponding controls. Accordingly, tenocyte responses to substrate stiffness are associated with alterations in intracellular tension and catabolic gene expression. On the other hand, tenocyte anabolism, as measured by type I collagen mRNA expression, was not altered with substrate stiffness.
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