Cellular Mechanotransduction: Putting All The Pieces Together Again

Published in: The FASEB Journal Vol. 20

Analysis of cellular mechanotransduction, the mechanism by which cells convert mechanical signals into biochemical responses, has focused on identification of critical mechanosensitive molecules and cellular components. Stretch-activated ion channels, caveolae, integrins, cadherins, growth factor receptors, myosin motors, cytoskeletal filaments, nuclei, extracellular matrix, and numerous other structures and signaling molecules have all been shown to contribute to the mechanotransduction response. However, little is known about how these different molecules function within the structural context of living cells, tissues, and organs to produce the orchestrated cellular behaviors required for mechanosensation, embryogenesis, and physiological control. Recent work from a wide range of fields reveals that organ, tissue, and cell anatomy are as important for mechanotransduction as individual mechanosensitive proteins and that our bodies use structural hierarchies (systems within systems) composed of interconnected networks that span from the macroscale to the nanoscale in order to focus stresses on specific mechanotransducer molecules. The presence of isometric tension (prestress) at all levels of these multiscale networks ensures that various molecular scale mechanochemical transduction mechanisms proceed simultaneously and produce a concerted response. Future research in this area will therefore require analysis, understanding, and modeling of tensionally integrated (tensegrity) systems of mechanochemical control. —Ingber, D. E. Cellular mechanotransduction: putting all the pieces together again. FASEB J. 20, 811–827 (2006).