Tumour-repopulating cells (TRCs) are a self-renewing, tumorigenic subpopulation of cancer cells critical in cancer progression. However, the underlying mechanisms of how TRCs maintain their self-renewing capability remain elusive. Here we show that relatively undifferentiated melanoma TRCs exhibit plasticity in Cdc42-mediated mechanical stiffening, histone 3 lysine residue 9 (H3K9) methylation, Sox2 expression and self-renewal capability. In contrast to differentiated melanoma cells, TRCs have a low level of H3K9 methylation that is unresponsive to matrix stiffness or applied forces. Silencing H3K9 methyltransferase G9a or SUV39h1 elevates the self-renewal capability of differentiated melanoma cells in a Sox2-dependent manner. Mechanistically, H3K9 methylation at the Sox2 promoter region inhibits Sox2 expression that is essential in maintaining self-renewal and tumorigenicity of TRCs both in vitro and in vivo. Taken together, our data suggest that 3D soft-fibrin-matrix-mediated cell softening, H3K9 demethylation and Sox2 gene expression are essential in regulating TRC self-renewal.
Increasing evidence suggests that mechanical factors play a critical role in fate decisions of stem cells. Recently we have demonstrated that a local force applied via Arg-Gly-Asp (RGD) peptides coated magnetic beads to mouse embryonic stem (ES) cells increases cell spreading and cell stiffness and decreases Oct3/4 (Pou5f1) gene expression. However, it is not clear whether the effects of the applied stress on these functions of ES cells can be extended to natural extracellular matrix proteins or cell-cell adhesion molecules. Here we show that a local cyclic shear force applied via fibronectin or laminin to integrin receptors increased cell spreading and stiffness, downregulated Oct3/4 gene expression, and decreased cell proliferation rate. In contrast, the same cyclic force applied via cell-cell adhesion molecule E-cadherin (Cdh1) had no effects on cell spreading, Oct3/4 gene expression, and the self-renewal of mouse ES cells, but induced significant cell stiffening. Our findings demonstrate that biological responses of ES cells to force applied via integrins are different from those to force via E-cadherin, suggesting that mechanical forces might play different roles in different force transduction pathways to shape early embryogenesis.
Stem cells derived from adult tissues or from the inner cell mass of blastocyst-stage embryos can self-renew in culture and have the remarkable potential to undergo lineage-specific differentiation. Extensive studies have been devoted to achieving a better understanding of the soluble factors and the mechanism(s) by which they regulate the fate decisions of these cells, but it is only recently that a critical role has been revealed for physical and mechanical factors in controlling self-renewal and lineage specification. This review summarizes selected aspects of current work on stem cell mechanics with an emphasis on the influence of matrix stiffness, surface topography, cell shape and mechanical forces on the fate determination of mesenchymal stem cells and embryonic stem cells.
Maintaining undifferentiated mouse embryonic stem cell (mESC) culture has been a major challenge as mESCs cultured in Leukemia Inhibitory Factor (LIF) conditions exhibit spontaneous differentiation, fluctuating expression of pluripotency genes, and genes of specialized cells. Here we show that, in sharp contrast to the mESCs seeded on the conventional rigid substrates, the mESCs cultured on the soft substrates that match the intrinsic stiffness of the mESCs and in the absence of exogenous LIF for 5 days, surprisingly still generated homogeneous undifferentiated colonies, maintained high levels of Oct3/4, Nanog, and Alkaline Phosphatase (AP) activities, and formed embryoid bodies and teratomas efficiently. A different line of mESCs, cultured on the soft substrates without exogenous LIF, maintained the capacity of generating homogeneous undifferentiated colonies with relatively high levels of Oct3/4 and AP activities, up to at least 15 passages, suggesting that this soft substrate approach applies to long term culture of different mESC lines. mESC colonies on these soft substrates without LIF generated low cell-matrix tractions and low stiffness. Both tractions and stiffness of the colonies increased with substrate stiffness, accompanied by downregulation of Oct3/4 expression. Our findings demonstrate that mESC self-renewal and pluripotency can be maintained homogeneously on soft substrates via the biophysical mechanism of facilitating generation of low cell-matrix tractions.
Despite recent advances in our understanding of biochemical regulation of neutrophil chemotaxis, little is known about how mechanical factors control neutrophils persistent polarity and rapid motility. Here, using a human neutrophil-like cell line and human primary neutrophils, we describe a dynamic spatiotemporal pattern of tractions during chemotaxis. Tractions are located at both the leading and the trailing edge of neutrophils, where they oscillate with a defined periodicity. Interestingly, traction oscillations at the leading and the trailing edge are out of phase with the tractions at the front leading those at the back, suggesting a temporal mechanism that coordinates leading edge and trailing edge activities. The magnitude and periodicity of tractions depend on the activity of nonmuscle myosin IIA. Specifically, traction development at the leading edge requires myosin light chain kinase-mediated myosin II contractility and is necessary for ?5?1-integrin activation and leading edge adhesion. Localized myosin II activation induced by spatially activated small GTPase Rho, and its downstream kinase p160-ROCK, as previously reported, leads to contraction of actin-myosin II complexes at the trailing edge, causing it to de-adhere. Our data identify a key biomechanical mechanism for persistent cell polarity and motility.
It has been previously established that living cells, including mesenchymal stem cells, stiffen in response to elevation of substrate stiffness. This stiffening is largely attributed to the elevation of the tractions at the cell base that is associated with increases in cell spreading on more-rigid substrates. We show here, surprisingly, that mouse embryonic stem cells (ESCs) do not stiffen when substrate stiffness increases. As shown recently, these cells do not increase spreading on more-rigid substrates either. However, these ESCs do increase their basal tractions as substrate stiffness increases. We conclude that these ESCs exhibit mechanical behaviors distinct from those of mesenchymal stem cells and of terminally differentiated cells, and decouple its apical cell stiffness from its basal tractional stresses during the substrate rigidity response.
It is well known that mechanical forces are crucial in regulating functions of every tissue and organ in a human body. However, it remains unclear how mechanical forces are transduced into biochemical activities and biological responses at the cellular and molecular level. Using the magnetic twisting cytometry technique, we applied local mechanical stresses to living human airway smooth muscle cells with a magnetic bead bound to the cell surface via transmembrane adhesion molecule integrins. The temporal and spatial activation of Rac, a small guanosine triphosphatase, was quantified using a fluorescent resonance energy transfer (FRET) method that measures changes in Rac activity in response to mechanical stresses by quantifying intensity ratios of ECFP (enhanced cyan fluorescent protein as a donor) and YPet (a variant yellow fluorescent protein as an acceptor) of the Rac biosensor. The applied stress induced rapid activation (less than 300 ms) of Rac at the cell periphery. In contrast, platelet derived growth factor (PDGF) induced Rac activation at a much later time (>30 sec). There was no stress-induced Rac activation when a mutant form of the Rac biosensor (RacN17) was transfected or when the magnetic bead was coated with transferrin or with poly-L-lysine. It is known that PDGF-induced Rac activation depends on Src activity. Surprisingly, pre-treatment of the cells with specific Src inhibitor PP1 or knocking-out Src gene had no effects on stress-induced Rac activation. In addition, eliminating lipid rafts through extraction of cholesterol from the plasma membrane did not prevent stress-induced Rac activation, suggesting a raft-independent mechanism in governing the Rac activation upon mechanical stimulation. Further evidence indicates that Rac activation by stress depends on the magnitudes of the applied stress and cytoskeletal integrity. Our results suggest that Rac activation by mechanical forces is rapid, direct and does not depend on Src activation. These findings suggest that signaling pathways of mechanical forces via integrins might be fundamentally different from those of growth factors.
Growing evidence suggests that physical microenvironments and mechanical stresses, in addition to soluble factors, help direct mesenchymal-stem-cell fate. However, biological responses to a local force in embryonic stem cells remain elusive. Here we show that a local cyclic stress through focal adhesions induced spreading in mouse embryonic stem cells but not in mouse embryonic stem-cell-differentiated cells, which were ten times stiffer. This response was dictated by the cell material property (cell softness), suggesting that a threshold cell deformation is the key setpoint for triggering spreading responses. Traction quantification and pharmacological or shRNA intervention revealed that myosin II contractility, F-actin, Src or cdc42 were essential in the spreading response. The applied stress led to oct3/4 gene downregulation in mES cells. Our findings demonstrate that cell softness dictates cellular sensitivity to force, suggesting that local small forces might have far more important roles in early development of soft embryos than previously appreciated.
Plectin is a 500-kDa cross-linking protein that plays important roles in a number of cell functions including migration and wound healing. We set out to characterize the role of plectin in mechanical properties of living cells. Plectin(-/-) cells were less stiff than plectin(+/+) cells, but the slopes of the two power laws in response to loading frequencies (0.002-1,000 Hz) were similar. Plectin(-/-) cells lost the capacity to propagate mechanical stresses to long distances in the cytoplasm; traction forces in plectin(-/-) cells were only half of those in plectin(+/+) cells, suggesting that plectin deficiency compromised prestress generation, which, in turn, resulted in the inhibition of long distance stress propagation. Both plectin(+/+) and plectin(-/-) cells exhibited nonlinear stress-strain relationships. However, plectin(+/+) cells, but not plectin(-/-) cells, further stiffened in response to lysophosphatidic acid (LPA). Dynamic fluorescence resonance energy transfer analysis revealed that RhoA GTPase proteins were activated in plectin(+/+) cells but not in plectin(-/-) cells after treatment with LPA. Expression in plectin(-/-) cells of constitutively active RhoA (RhoA-V14) but not a dominant negative mutant of RhoA (RhoA-N19) or an empty vector restored the long distance force propagation behavior, suggesting that plectin is important in normal functions of RhoA. Our findings underscore the importance of plectin for mechanical properties, stress propagation, and prestress of living cells, thereby influencing their biological functions.
Despite past progress in understanding mechanisms of cellular mechanotransduction, it is unclear whether a local surface force can directly alter nuclear functions without intermediate biochemical cascades. Here we show that a local dynamic force via integrins results in direct displacements of coilin and SMN proteins in Cajal bodies and direct dissociation of coilin-SMN associated complexes. Spontaneous movements of coilin increase more than those of SMN in the same Cajal body after dynamic force application. Fluorescence resonance energy transfer changes of coilin-SMN depend on force magnitude, an intact F-actin, cytoskeletal tension, Lamin A/C, or substrate rigidity. Other protein pairs in Cajal bodies exhibit different magnitudes of fluorescence resonance energy transfer. Dynamic cyclic force induces tiny phase lags between various protein pairs in Cajal bodies, suggesting viscoelastic interactions between them. These findings demonstrate that dynamic force-induced direct structural changes of protein complexes in Cajal bodies may represent a unique mechanism of mechanotransduction that impacts on nuclear functions involved in gene expression.
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