The image on the August 5 issue of the Biophysical Journal captures the moment that canine kidney cells on cover glass begin to break free of each other in response to stimulation with soluble growth factor. The image was obtained by chemically fixing the cells, labeling two specific proteins (the cytoskeletal protein actin and the cell-cell adhesion molecule E-cadherin) with fluorophore-conjugated chemical or antibody, and imaging the cells on a fluorescence microscope. Two fluorescence channels were color-combined to produce the final image. Even though several biochemical changes are known to accompany this process called cell scattering, the image qualitatively illustrates that the cell adhesion plaques and the actin cytoskeleton are involved in a fundamentally mechanical process. Our work attempts to quantify such mechanical changes in order to gain a physical understanding of this process.
Knowledge of the context-dependent physical forces exerted by cells is necessary to gain a complete understanding of various physiologically relevant phenomena. For example, how cell-generated forces shape the embryo and whether cell-generated forces play a role in cancer metastasis are broad, open questions in biology. Uncovering the relationship between the mechanical nature of cells or cellular processes and their biochemical underpinnings can be expected to continue to yield new insights into cellular and multi-cellular function. More details on our research can be found at our lab website at http://squishycell.uchicago.edu/
– Venkat Maruthamuthu and Margaret Gardel