A cell's mechanical microenvironment an influence its behavior, from its adhesive and cytoskeletal structure to the genes it expresses, and has been shown to affect complex biological processes such as stem cell differentiation and tumor progression. However, the manner in which a cell measures and interprets mechanical information in its microenvironment, particularly transient mechanical signals such as those experienced during development and wounding, is unclear. The proposed work will explore these questions by directly imaging the accumulation of mRNA transcripts and transcription factor localization in live cells as the mechanical microenvironment is altered using force microscopy. In this way, we will be able to decipher the thresholds of mechanical stimuli, include stiffness changes or force changes, and the patterns of mechanical inputs, including continuous, oscillatory, and pulsed stimuli, that can elicit a genetic response, and vary the patterns of mechanical inputs to determine how a cell integrates transient short-timescale mechanical inputs into sustained long-timescale genetic responses, moving us toward a detailed mechanism for mechanosensitive gene regulation.
Tumor progression and stem cell differentiation are cellular processes that are affected by the mechanical microenvironment a cell finds itself in, though how a cell senses and interprets mechanical information in its microenvironment is not well understood. The proposed work will advance our knowledge of this sensing process, identifying key parts that could serve as targets for drug therapies and informing how to design engineered tissues for regenerative therapies.
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