Model-based traction force microscopy reveals differential tension in cellular actin bundles

PLoS Comput Biol. 2015 Mar 6;11(3):e1004076. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1004076. eCollection 2015 Mar.


Adherent cells use forces at the cell-substrate interface to sense and respond to the physical properties of their environment. These cell forces can be measured with traction force microscopy which inverts the equations of elasticity theory to calculate them from the deformations of soft polymer substrates. We introduce a new type of traction force microscopy that in contrast to traditional methods uses additional image data for cytoskeleton and adhesion structures and a biophysical model to improve the robustness of the inverse procedure and abolishes the need for regularization. We use this method to demonstrate that ventral stress fibers of U2OS-cells are typically under higher mechanical tension than dorsal stress fibers or transverse arcs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Actin Cytoskeleton / chemistry*
  • Actin Cytoskeleton / metabolism
  • Actins / chemistry*
  • Actins / metabolism
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Microscopy, Atomic Force
  • Models, Biological*
  • Stress Fibers / chemistry*
  • Stress Fibers / metabolism
  • Stress, Mechanical


  • Actins

Grants and funding

The authors acknowledge support from the Mechanosys-project of the Germany Science Department (, to JRDS and USS), the EU-project MEHTRICS (, to USS), the Heidelberg cluster of excellence CellNetworks (, to JTDS and USS) and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (, to CAB). Packard Foundation and Burroughs Wellcome Career Award at the Scientific Interface to MLG. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.