Huang H, Sylvan J, Jonas M, Barresi R, So PT, Campbell KP, Lee RT. 2005. Cell stiffness and receptors: evidence for cytoskeletal subnetworks. American journal of physiology. Cell physiology. 288(1):C72-80. Pubmed: 15385268


Viscoelastic models of cells often treat cells as homogeneous objects. However, studies have demonstrated that cellular properties are local and can change dramatically on the basis of the location probed. Because membrane receptors are linked in various ways to the intracellular space, with some receptors linking to the cytoskeleton and others diffusing freely without apparent linkages, the cellular physical response to mechanical stresses is expected to depend on the receptor engaged. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that cellular mechanical stiffness as measured via cytoskeletally linked receptors is greater than stiffness measured via receptors that are not cytoskeletally linked. We used a magnetic micromanipulator to apply linear stresses to magnetic beads attached to living cells via selected receptors. One of the receptor classes probed, the dystroglycan receptors, is linked to the cytoskeleton, while the other, the transferrin receptors, is not. Fibronectin-coated beads were used to test cellular mechanical properties of the cytoskeleton without membrane dependence by allowing the beads to endocytose. For epithelial cells, transferrin-dependent stiffness and endocytosed bead-dependent stiffness were similar, while dystroglycan-dependent stiffness was significantly lower. For smooth muscle cells, dystroglycan-dependent stiffness was similar to the endocytosed bead-dependent stiffness, while the transferrin-dependent stiffness was lower. The conclusion of this study is that the measured cellular stiffness is critically influenced by specific receptor linkage and by cell type and raises the intriguing possibility of the existence of separate cytoskeletal networks with distinct mechanical properties that link different classes of receptors.

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Rich Lee seeks to understand heart failure and metabolic diseases that accompany human aging, and translate that understanding into therapies. Lee is an active clinician, regularly treating patients at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

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