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Department of Biomedical Engineering; Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics; Health Research Institute


The stiffness of the extracellular matrix induces differential tension within integrin-based adhesions, triggering differential mechanoresponses. However, it has been unclear if the stiffness-dependent differential tension is induced solely by myosin activity. Here, we report that in the absence of myosin contractility, 3T3 fibroblasts still transmit stiffness-dependent differential levels of traction. This myosin-independent differential traction is regulated by polymerizing actin assisted by actin nucleators Arp2/3 and formin where formin has a stronger contribution than Arp2/3 to both traction and actin flow. Intriguingly, despite only slight changes in F-actin flow speed observed in cells with the combined inhibition of Arp2/3 and myosin compared to cells with sole myosin inhibition, they show a 4-times reduction in traction than cells with myosin-only inhibition. Our analyses indicate that traditional models based on rigid F-actin are inadequate for capturing such dramatic force reduction with similar actin flow. Instead, incorporating the F-actin network’s viscoelastic properties is crucial. Our new model including the F-actin viscoelasticity reveals that Arp2/3 and formin enhance stiffness sensitivity by mechanically reinforcing the F-actin network, thereby facilitating more effective transmission of flow-induced forces. This model is validated by cell stiffness measurement with atomic force microscopy and experimental observation of model-predicted stiffness-dependent actin flow fluctuation.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


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