Model of coupled transient changes of Rac, Rho, adhesions and stress fibers alignment in endothelial cells responding to shear stress

Interactions of cell adhesions, Rho GTPases and actin in the endothelial cells' response to external forces are complex and not fully understood, but a qualitative understanding of the mechanosensory response begins to emerge. Here, we formulate a mathematical model of the coupled dynamics of cell adhesions, small GTPases Rac and Rho and actin stress fibers guiding a directional reorganization of the actin cytoskeleton. The model is based on the assumptions that the interconnected cytoskeleton transfers the shear force to the adhesion sites, which in turn transduce the force into a chemical signal that activates integrins at the basal surface of the cell. Subsequently, activated and ligated integrins signal and transiently de-activate Rho, causing the disassembly of actin stress fibers and inhibiting the maturation of focal complexes into focal contacts. Focal complexes and ligated integrins activate Rac, which in turn enhances focal complex assembly. When Rho activity recovers, stress fibers re-assemble and promote the maturation of focal complexes into focal contacts. Merging stress fibers self-align, while the elevated level of Rac activity at the downstream edge of the cell is translated into an alignment of the cells and the newly forming stress fibers in the flow direction. Numerical solutions of the model equations predict transient changes in Rac and Rho that compare well with published experimental results. We report quantitative data on early alignment of the stress fibers and its dependence on cell shape that agrees with the model.

Published in:
Journal of theoretical biology, 232, 4, 569-585

 Record created 2010-03-25, last modified 2018-03-17

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