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Soft Hyaluronic Gels Promote Cell Spreading, Stress Fibers, Focal Adhesion, and Membrane Tension by Phosphoinositide Signaling, Not Traction Force

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posted on 30.11.2018, 00:00 by Kalpana Mandal, Dikla Raz-Ben Aroush, Zachary Tobias Graber, Bin Wu, Chan Young Park, Jeffery J. Fredberg, Wei Guo, Tobias Baumgart, Paul A. Janmey
Cells respond to both physical and chemical aspects of their substrate. Whether intracellular signals initiated by physical stimuli are fundamentally different from those elicited by chemical stimuli is an open question. Here, we show that the requirement for a stiff substrate (and, therefore, high cellular tension) for cells to produce large focal adhesions and stress fibers is obviated when a soft substrate contains both hyaluronic acid (HA) and an integrin ligand (collagen I). HA is a major extracellular matrix component that is often up-regulated during wound healing and tumor growth. HA, together with collagen I, promotes hepatocellular carcinoma cell (Huh7) spreading on very soft substrates (300 Pa), resulting in morphology and motility similar to what these cells develop only on stiff substrates (>30 kPa) formed by polyacrylamide that contains collagen but not HA. The effect of HA requires turnover of polyphosphoinositides and leads to the activation of Akt. The inhibition of polyphosphoinositide turnover causes Huh7 cells and fibroblasts to decrease spreading and detach, whereas cells on stiffer substrates show almost no response. Traction force microscopy shows that the cell maintains a low strain energy and net contractile moment on HA substrates compared to stiff polyacrylamide substrates. Membrane tension measured by tether pulling is similar on soft HA and stiff polyacrylamide substrates. These results suggest that simultaneous signaling stimulated by HA and an integrin ligand can generate phosphoinositide-mediated signals to the cytoskeleton that reproduce those generated by high cellular tension.