Integrin-mediated force application induces a conformational change in latent TGF-β1 that leads to the release of the active form of the growth factor from the extracellular matrix (ECM). Mechanical activation of TGF-β1 is currently understood as an acute process that depends on the contractile force of cells. However, we show that ECM remodeling, preceding the activation step, mechanically primes latent TGF-β1 akin to loading a mechanical spring. Cell-based assays and unique strain devices were used to produce a cell-derived ECM of controlled organization and prestrain. Mechanically conditioned ECM served as a substrate to measure the efficacy of TGF-β1 activation after cell contraction or direct force application using magnetic microbeads. The release of active TGF-β1 was always higher from prestrained ECM as compared with unorganized and/or relaxed ECM. The finding that ECM prestrain regulates the bioavailability of TGF-β1 is important to understand the context of diseases that involve excessive ECM remodeling, such as fibrosis or cancer.
© 2014 Klingberg et al.