Contractile actomyosin networks generate intracellular forces essential for the regulation of cell shape, migration, and cell-fate decisions, ultimately leading to the remodeling and patterning of tissues. Although actin filaments aligned in bundles represent the main source of traction-force production in adherent cells, there is increasing evidence that these bundles form interconnected and interconvertible structures with the rest of the intracellular actin network. In this study, we explored how these bundles are connected to the surrounding cortical network and the mechanical impact of these interconnected structures on the production and distribution of traction forces on the extracellular matrix and throughout the cell. By using a combination of hydrogel micropatterning, traction-force microscopy and laser photoablation, we measured the relaxation of the cellular traction field in response to local photoablations at various positions within the cell. Our experimental results and modeling of the mechanical response of the network revealed that bundles were fully embedded along their entire length in a continuous and contractile network of cortical filaments. Moreover, the propagation of the contraction of these bundles throughout the entire cell was dependent on this embedding. In addition, these bundles appeared to originate from the alignment and coalescence of thin and unattached cortical actin filaments from the surrounding mesh.
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