Gaussian Curvature Directs Stress Fiber Orientation and Cell Migration

Biophys J. 2018 Mar 27;114(6):1467-1476. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2018.01.039.


We show that substrates with nonzero Gaussian curvature influence the organization of stress fibers and direct the migration of cells. To study the role of Gaussian curvature, we developed a sphere-with-skirt surface in which a positive Gaussian curvature spherical cap is seamlessly surrounded by a negative Gaussian curvature draping skirt, both with principal radii similar to cell-length scales. We find significant reconfiguration of two subpopulations of stress fibers when fibroblasts are exposed to these curvatures. Apical stress fibers in cells on skirts align in the radial direction and avoid bending by forming chords across the concave gap, whereas basal stress fibers bend along the convex direction. Cell migration is also strongly influenced by the Gaussian curvature. Real-time imaging shows that cells migrating on skirts repolarize to establish a leading edge in the azimuthal direction. Thereafter, they migrate in that direction. This behavior is notably different from migration on planar surfaces, in which cells typically migrate in the same direction as the apical stress fiber orientation. Thus, this platform reveals that nonzero Gaussian curvature not only affects the positioning of cells and alignment of stress fiber subpopulations but also directs migration in a manner fundamentally distinct from that of migration on planar surfaces.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Movement*
  • Cell Polarity
  • Mice
  • Normal Distribution
  • Stress Fibers / metabolism*