Substrate stiffness modulates the emergence and magnitude of senescence phenotypes in dermal fibroblasts

bioRxiv [Preprint]. 2024 Jul 5:2024.02.06.579151. doi: 10.1101/2024.02.06.579151.


Cellular senescence is a major driver of aging and disease. Here we show that substrate stiffness modulates the emergence and magnitude of senescence phenotypes after exposure to senescence inducers. Using a primary dermal fibroblast model, we show that decreased substrate stiffness accelerates senescence-associated cell-cycle arrest and regulates the expression of conventional protein-based biomarkers of senescence. We found that the expression of these senescence biomarkers, namely p21WAF1/CIP1 and p16INK4a are mechanosensitive and are in-part regulated by myosin contractility through focal adhesion kinase (FAK)-ROCK signaling. Interestingly, at the protein level senescence-induced dermal fibroblasts on soft substrates (0.5 kPa) do not express p21WAF1/CIP1 and p16INK4a at comparable levels to induced cells on stiff substrates (4GPa). However, cells express CDKN1a, CDKN2a, and IL6 at the RNA level across both stiff and soft substrates. Moreover, when cells are transferred from soft to stiff substrates, senescent cells recover an elevated expression of p21WAF1/CIP1 and p16INK4a at levels comparable to senescence cells on stiff substrates, pointing to a mechanosensitive regulation of the senescence phenotype. Together, our results indicate that the emergent senescence phenotype depends critically on the local mechanical environments of cells and that senescent cells actively respond to changing mechanical cues.

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