Unique Role of Vimentin Networks in Compression Stiffening of Cells and Protection of Nuclei from Compressive Stress

Nano Lett. 2022 Jun 22;22(12):4725-4732. doi: 10.1021/acs.nanolett.2c00736. Epub 2022 Jun 9.


In this work, we investigate whether stiffening in compression is a feature of single cells and whether the intracellular polymer networks that comprise the cytoskeleton (all of which stiffen with increasing shear strain) stiffen or soften when subjected to compressive strains. We find that individual cells, such as fibroblasts, stiffen at physiologically relevant compressive strains, but genetic ablation of vimentin diminishes this effect. Further, we show that unlike networks of purified F-actin or microtubules, which soften in compression, vimentin intermediate filament networks stiffen in both compression and extension, and we present a theoretical model to explain this response based on the flexibility of vimentin filaments and their surface charge, which resists volume changes of the network under compression. These results provide a new framework by which to understand the mechanical responses of cells and point to a central role of intermediate filaments in response to compression.

Keywords: AFM; compression-stiffening; compressive stress; intermediate filaments; vimentin.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Actin Cytoskeleton
  • Actins
  • Cytoskeleton*
  • Intermediate Filaments*
  • Vimentin


  • Actins
  • Vimentin