Cell Shape Dynamics Reveal Balance of Elasticity and Contractility in Peripheral Arcs
The mechanical interaction between adherent cells and their substrate relies on the formation of adhesion sites and on the stabilization of contractile acto-myosin bundles, or stress fibers. The shape of the cell and the orientation of these fibers can be controlled by adhesive patterning. On nonadhesive gaps, fibroblasts develop thick peripheral stress fibers, with a concave curvature. The radius of curvature of these arcs results from the balance of the line tension in the arc and of the surface tension in the cell bulk. However, the nature of these forces, and in particular the contribution of myosin-dependent contractility, is not clear. To get insight into the force balance, we inhibit myosin activity and simultaneously monitor the dynamics of peripheral arc radii and traction forces. We use these measurements to estimate line and surface tension. We found that myosin inhibition led to a decrease in the traction forces and an increase in arc radius, indicating that both line tension and surface tension dropped, but the line tension decreased to a lesser extent than surface tension. These results suggest that myosin-independent force contributes to tension in the peripheral arcs. We propose a simple physical model in which the peripheral arc line tension is due to the combination of myosin II contractility and a passive elastic component, while surface tension is largely due to active contractility. Numerical solutions of this model reproduce well the experimental data and allow estimation of the contributions of elasticity and contractility to the arc line tension.