Cell Contraction Induces Long-Ranged Stress Stiffening in the Extracellular Matrix
Han, Yu Long
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Animal cells in tissues are supported by biopolymer matrices, which exhibit highly nonlinear mechanical properties. Here we show that this nonlinearity allows living contractile cells to generate a massive stiffness gradient in three distinct 3D extracellular matrix model systems: collagen, fibrin, and Matrigel. We decipher this remarkable behavior by introducing Nonlinear Stress Inference Microscopy (NSIM), a novel technique to infer stress fields in a 3D matrix from nonlinear microrheology measurement with optical tweezers. Using NSIM and simulations, we reveal a long-ranged propagation of cell-generated stresses resulting from local filament buckling. This slow decay of stress gives rise to the large spatial extent of the observed cell-induced matrix stiffness gradient, which could form a mechanism for mechanical communication between cells.
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