Physically based principles of cell adhesion mechanosensitivity in tissues
Ladoux B, Nicolas A.
Reports on Progress in Physics
2012 Oct 19
The minimal structural unit that defines living organisms is a single cell. By proliferating and mechanically interacting with each other, cells can build complex organization such as tissues that ultimately organize into even more complex multicellular living organisms, such as mammals, composed of billions of single cells interacting with each other. As opposed to passive materials, living cells actively respond to the mechanical perturbations occurring in their environment. Tissue cell adhesion to its surrounding extracellular matrix or to neighbors is an example of a biological process that adapts to physical cues. The adhesion of tissue cells to their surrounding medium induces the generation of intracellular contraction forces whose amplitude adapts to the mechanical properties of the environment. In turn, solicitation of adhering cells with physical forces, such as blood flow shearing the layer of endothelial cells in the lumen of arteries, reinforces cell adhesion and impacts cell contractility. In biological terms, the sensing of physical signals is transduced into biochemical signaling events that guide cellular responses such as cell differentiation, cell growth and cell death. Regarding the biological and developmental consequences of cell adaptation to mechanical perturbations, understanding mechanotransduction in tissue cell adhesion appears as an important step in numerous fields of biology, such as cancer, regenerative medicine or tissue bioengineering for instance. Physicists were first tempted to view cell adhesion as the wetting transition of a soft bag having a complex, adhesive interaction with the surface. But surprising responses of tissue cell adhesion to mechanical cues challenged this view. This, however, did not exclude that cell adhesion could be understood in physical terms. It meant that new models and descriptions had to be created specifically for these biological issues, and could not straightforwardly be adapted from dead matter. In this review, we present physical concepts of tissue cell adhesion and the unexpected cellular responses to mechanical cues such as external forces and stiffness sensing. We show how biophysical approaches, both experimentally and theoretically, have contributed to our understanding of the regulation of cellular functions through physical force sensing mechanisms. Finally, we discuss the different physical models that could explain how tissue cell adhesion and force sensing can be coupled to internal mechanosensitive processes within the cell body.