It is increasingly clear that mechanotransduction pathways play important roles in regulating fundamental cellular functions. Of the basic mechanical functions, the determination of cellular morphology is critical. Cells typically use many mechanosensitive steps and different cell states to achieve a polarized shape through repeated testing of the microenvironment. Indeed, morphology is determined by the microenvironment through periodic activation of motility, mechanotesting, and mechanoresponse functions by hormones, internal clocks, and receptor tyrosine kinases. Patterned substrates and controlled environments with defined rigidities limit the range of cell behavior and influence cell state decisions and are thus very useful for studying these steps. The recently defined rigidity sensing process provides a good example of how cells repeatedly test their microenvironment and is also linked to cancer. In general, aberrant extracellular matrix mechanosensing is associated with numerous conditions, including cardiovascular disease, aging, and fibrosis, that correlate with changes in tissue morphology and matrix composition. Hence, detailed descriptions of the steps involved in sensing and responding to the microenvironment are needed to better understand both the mechanisms of tissue homeostasis and the pathomechanisms of human disease.
Keywords: cell fate; cell morphology; cytoskeleton; integrin adhesions; mechanotransduction.