Traction Force Measurements of Human Aortic Smooth Muscle Cells Reveal a Motor-Clutch behavior
The contractile behavior of smooth muscle cells (SMCs) in the aorta is an important determinant of growth, remodeling, and homeostasis. However, quantitative values of SMC basal tone have never been characterized precisely on individual SMCs. Therefore, to address this lack, we developed an in vitro technique based on Traction Force Microscopy (TFM). Aortic SMCs from a human lineage at low passages (4-7) were cultured 2 days in conditions promoting the development of their contractile apparatus and seeded on hydrogels of varying elastic modulus (1, 4, 12 and 25 kPa) with embedded fluorescent microspheres. After complete adhesion, SMCs were artificially detached from the gel by trypsin treatment. The microbeads movement was tracked and the deformation fields were processed with a mechanical model, assuming linear elasticity, isotropic material, plane strain, to extract the traction forces formerly applied by individual SMCs on the gel. Two major interesting and original observations about SMC traction forces were deduced from the obtained results: 1. they are stochastic and show an exponential distribution, with 40% to 80% of traction forces in the range 0-10µN. 2. They depend on the substrate stiffness: the fraction of adhesion forces below 10 µN tend to decrease when the substrate stiffness increases, whereas the fraction of higher adhesion forces increases. As these two aspects of cell adhesion (stochastic and stiffness dependence) and the distribution of their traction forces can be predicted by the motor-clutch model, we conclude that this model could be applied to SMCs. Further studies will consider stimulated contractility and primary culture of cells extracted from aneurysmal human aortic tissue.
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