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Sensing Traction Force on Matrix Induces Cell-Cell Distant Mechanical Communications for Self-assembly

By Mingxing Ouyang, Zhili Qian, Bing Bu, Yang Jin, Jiajia Wang, Lei Liu, Yan Pan, Linhong Deng

Posted 05 Dec 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/866228 (published DOI: 10.1021/acsbiomaterials.0c01035)

The long-range biomechanical force propagating across large scale may reserve the capability to trigger coordinative responses within cell population such as during angiogenesis, epithelial tubulogenesis, and cancer metastasis. How cells communicate in a distant manner within the group for self-assembly remains largely unknown. Here we found that airway smooth muscle cells (ASMCs) rapidly self-assembled into well-constructed network on 3D Matrigel containing type I collagen (COL), which relied on long-range biomechanical force across the matrix to direct cell-cell distant interactions. Similar results happened by HUVEC cells to mimic angiogenesis. Interestingly, single ASMCs initiated multiple extended protrusions precisely pointing to neighboring cells in distance, depending on traction force sensing. Separate ASMCs sensed each other to move directionally on both non-fibrous Matrigel and more efficiently when containing fibrous COL, but lost mutual sensing on fixed gel or coated glass due to no long-range force transmission. Beads tracking assay demonstrated distant transmission of traction force, and finite element method modeling confirmed the consistency between maximum strain distribution on matrix and cell directional movements in experiments. Furthermore, ASMCs recruited COL from the hydrogel to build fibrous network to mechanically stabilize cell network. Our results revealed for the first time that cells can sense traction force transmitted through the matrix to initiate cell-cell distant mechanical communications, resulting in cell directional migration and coordinative self-assembly with active matrix remodeling. As an interesting phenomenon, cells sound able to ‘make phone call’ via long-range biomechanics, which implicates physiological importance such as for tissue pattern formation.

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