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Research Article

Dynamic and structural signatures of lamellar actomyosin force generation


The dynamics and organization of the lamellar actin cytoskeleton at different levels of tension are identified. The force-dependent steps of stress fiber assembly are studied.The regulation of cellular traction forces on the extracellular matrix is critical to cell adhesion, migration, proliferation, and differentiation. Diverse lamellar actin organizations ranging from contractile lamellar networks to stress fibers are observed in adherent cells. Although lamellar organization is thought to reflect the extent of cellular force generation, understanding of the physical behaviors of the lamellar actin cytoskeleton is lacking. To elucidate these properties, we visualized the actomyosin dynamics and organization in U2OS cells over a broad range of forces. At low forces, contractile lamellar networks predominate and force generation is strongly correlated to actomyosin retrograde flow dynamics with nominal change in organization. Lamellar networks build ∼60% of cellular tension over rapid time scales. At high forces, reorganization of the lamellar network into stress fibers results in moderate changes in cellular tension over slower time scales. As stress fibers build and tension increases, myosin band spacing decreases and α-actinin bands form. On soft matrices, force generation by lamellar networks is unaffected, whereas tension-dependent stress fiber assembly is abrogated. These data elucidate the dynamic and structural signatures of the actomyosin cytoskeleton at different levels of tension and set a foundation for quantitative models of cell and tissue mechanics.