Transmission of mechanical stresses within the cytoskeleton of adherent cells: A theoretical analysis based on a multi-component cell model

Acta Biotheoretica 52 (4) (2004)
How environmental mechanical forces affect cellular functions is a central problem in cell biology. Theoretical models of cellular biomechanics provide relevant tools for understanding how the contributions of deformable intracellular components and specific adhesion conditions at the cell interface are integrated for determining the overall balance of mechanical forces within the cell. We investigate here the spatial distributions of intracellular stresses when adherent cells are probed by magnetic twisting cytometry. The influence of the cell nucleus stiffness on the simulated nonlinear torque-bead rotation response is analyzed by considering a finite element multi-component cell model in which the cell and its nucleus are considered as different hyperelastic materials. We additionally take into account the mechanical properties of the basal cell cortex, which can be affected by the interaction of the basal cell membrane with the extracellular substrate. In agreement with data obtained on epithelial cells, the simulated behaviour of the cell model relates the hyperelastic response observed at the entire cell scale to the distribution of stresses and strains within the nucleus and the cytoskeleton, up to cell adhesion areas. These results, which indicate how mechanical forces are transmitted at distant points through the cytoskeleton, are compared to recent data imaging the highly localized distribution of intracellular stresses.
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