The mechanical properties of extracellular matrix proteins strongly influence cell-induced tension in the matrix, which in turn influences cell function. Despite progress on the impact of elastic behaviour of matrix proteins on cell-matrix interactions, little is known about the influence of inelastic behaviour, especially at the large and slow deformations that characterize cell-induced matrix remodelling. We found that collagen matrices exhibit deformation rate-dependent behaviour, which leads to a transition from pronounced elastic behaviour at fast deformations to substantially inelastic behaviour at slow deformations (1 μm min(-1), similar to cell-mediated deformation). With slow deformations, the inelastic behaviour of floating gels was sensitive to collagen concentration, whereas attached gels exhibited similar inelastic behaviour independent of collagen concentration. The presence of an underlying rigid support had a similar effect on cell-matrix interactions: cell-induced deformation and remodelling were similar on 1 or 3 mg ml(-1) attached collagen gels while deformations were two- to fourfold smaller in floating gels of high compared with low collagen concentration. In cross-linked collagen matrices, which did not exhibit inelastic behaviour, cells did not respond to the presence of the underlying rigid foundation. These data indicate that at the slow rates of collagen compaction generated by fibroblasts, the inelastic responses of collagen gels, which are influenced by collagen concentration and the presence of an underlying rigid foundation, are important determinants of cell-matrix interactions and mechanosensation.
Keywords: cell surface area; collagen gels; plasticity; remodelling.
© 2014 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.