Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Feel the Force

Fluorescent sensors used to study the forces at play inside cells

16 September 2018

Feel the Force

Latching on, pulling, stretching and squeezing inside us, cells need to feel the strain in order to survive. Springy 'load-bearing' proteins poke out from their membranes, helping to adjust to hard or soft surroundings. In these mouse cells, fluorescent sensors snoop on this tiny mechanobiology – examining the forces at play on vinculin, a protein involved in anchoring a cell to its environment. As the cells attach to a platform underneath, sensors with different sensitivities (left to right) detect how much the vinculin is pulled about (top row), compared to how much it extends (bottom row) – coloured light acts as a measure, with white light showing the greatest forces. Analysis shows that cellular forces change and adapt to pull vinculin to a specific length – the next job is to see how this works in stiff cancer microenvironments or soft developing tissues.

Written by John Ankers

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