Mechanical forces transduced to cells through the extracellular matrix are critical regulators of tissue development, growth, and homeostasis, and can play important roles in directing stem cell differentiation. In addition to force-sensing mechanisms that reside at the cell surface, there is growing evidence that forces transmitted through the cytoskeleton and to the nuclear envelope are important for mechanosensing, including activation of the Yes-associated protein (YAP)/transcriptional coactivator with PDZ-binding motif (TAZ) pathway. Moreover, nuclear shape, mechanics, and deformability change with differentiation state and have been likewise implicated in force sensing and differentiation. However, the significance of force transfer to the nucleus through the mechanosensing cytoskeletal machinery in the regulation of mesenchymal stem cell mechanobiologic response remains unclear. Here we report that actomyosin-generated cytoskeletal tension regulates nuclear shape and force transmission through the cytoskeleton and demonstrate the differential short- and long-term response of mesenchymal stem cells to dynamic tensile loading based on the contractility state, the patency of the actin cytoskeleton, and the connections it makes with the nucleus. Specifically, we show that while some mechanoactive signaling pathways (e.g., ERK signaling) can be activated in the absence of nuclear strain transfer, cytoskeletal strain transfer to the nucleus is essential for activation of the YAP/TAZ pathway with stretch.
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