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Timothée Vignaud

Force production in actin cytoskeleton: Mechanisms and micro-environmental regulation

Published on 15 November 2013

Thesis presented November​ 15, 2013

Abstract :
Our work has been focused on the regulation of the forces generated by the actin cytoskeleton. We have more precisely studied the role of the cellular microenvironment in this process. It was necessary to overcome some technical challenges to study these mechanisms. We developed two new techniques. The first one allows for the dynamic control of cell shape. A pulsed UV laser is used to modify the adhesive microenvironment around the cell and to create new area available for cell spreading. The second technique is an improvement of an existing technique from the laboratory. It consists in producing ECM protein islands on a elastic acrylamide substrate. This substrate provides the control of cell shape and internal organization. Plus, the elasticity of the substrate is compatible with traction forces measurements. The last technique combines acrylamide micropatterning and laser ablation of intracellular actin structures. Thus, the forces produced by a particular intracellular structure can be estimated. Two keys mechanisms of force regulation were shown. The use of mass spectrometry, traction force microscopy and molecular biology made it possible to study the interaction between different integrins in the adhesion complex. Cooperation was shown. It allows for the coupling between the architecture of the cytoskeleton and the amount of molecular motors in action. This process is necessary for the adaptation of cell forces to substrate stiffness. Actin structures are the one responsible for force production. This force can then be transmitted to the environment through adhesions.. The link between the length of actin fibers and the force produced was more precisely studied. The results showed a correlation between stress fibers length and the force generated inside it. This was true only above a certain critical value. After that, the force was rather decreasing with increasing fiber length. This critical length corresponds to the maximal length of cell axis on infinite 2D substrate. Our main hypothesis is that a too high myosin/actin ratio will block the proper force production/transmission within the fiber. Disassembly of actin by myosin or limited pool of actin are the two explanations we are currently following. The combination of these two-regulation process put brakes on force production by the cell. Above a certain length, the force produced is decreasing. This decreases in turn the strength of the adhesions anchored to these fibers. This will destabilize the adhesions and causes cell retraction The interplay between the regulation by the adhesion and the production of forces within the fiber set some limits on the level of forces produced by the cell. Th​ese processes are likely to be modified in a pathological context and can lead to tumor formation. They also protect the cell from being destroyed by stretching. If the length/stretch is too high, the cell will decrease its forces and detach from neighboring cells. This provide a system protecting the cell from being destroyed by massive deformations within the body.

Actin, cytoskeleton, micropattern, modeling, cell movement, stress fibers

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