Force and geometry sensing are the major mechanisms by which cells are able to respond to their mechanical environment and give rise to the final form of the tissue and the organism. Many diseases are associated with malfunction of the mechanical sensing and response functions, including cancer and cardiovascular disease. We have determined that the cytoskeleton can transduce force into biochemical signals in the absence of a plasma membrane through stretch-dependent activation of tyrosine phosphorylation. Since tyrosine kinases and phosphatases are involved in the transformation of cancer cells, they are logical candidates for the transduction process. Our recent studies have shown that stretching of the major tyrosine kinase substrate, p130Cas, activates it for tyrosine phosphorylation both in vitro and in vivo. We now plan to study the mechanisms of mechanotransduction at the single molecule level, using a novel single molecule assay with magnetic beads to apply defined forces to stretch the molecules. These studies will measure the dynamics of stretch- dependent binding and phosphorylation as well as the effects of other p130Cas binding molecules. In related studies, we will examine the force-dependence of talin stretching and vinculin binding. This represents another class of force sensors that rely upon domain unfolding to expose alpha helices that bind to other proteins, in this case to vinculin. Mutational as well as steered molecular dynamics studies will direct these studies to probe important aspects of the interaction. Photoactivated localization microscopy (PALM) can define the position of two different photoactivated-fluorophore-tagged proteins to within 5-10 nm. Using this technology, we can measure the relative positions of two proteins or the N- and C-termini of dually tagged proteins such as p130Cas. The stretching of p130Cas in vivo will be measured as well as the geometry of other protein-p130Cas complexes that signal in vivo during periodic edge contractions and matrix contact maturation. We have lined substrates with 20-50 nm fibronectin lines where the dynamics can be viewed relative to the matrix binding sites. Of particular interest is the question of what is the temporal sequence of stretching, phosphorylation and binding interactions during periodic contractions and matrix contact maturation. We can determine if p130Cas is stretched in vivo, is it processively phosphorylated or dephosphorylate, and do binding proteins such as c-Crk form stable complexes. These studies will provide a quantitative description of the force-dependent response pathways that form the basis of in vivo organ development, regeneration, and certain cancers.

Public Health Relevance

Cell responses to local force and geometry give rise to the final form of the tissue and the organism;but underlie many diseases including cancer and cardiovascular disease. We have determined that the cell cytoskeleton transduces force into biochemical signals in the absence of a plasma membrane through stretch-dependent activation of tyrosine phosphorylation that is related to transformation in cancer. We plan to characterize the molecular mechanisms by which force and stretch are converted into relevant biochemical signals with an eye for novel ways to treat disease or aiding regeneration.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Cell Structure and Function (CSF)
Program Officer
Hunziker, Rosemarie
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Columbia University (N.Y.)
Other Domestic Higher Education
New York
United States
Zip Code
Yao, Mingxi; Goult, Benjamin T; Chen, Hu et al. (2014) Mechanical activation of vinculin binding to talin locks talin in an unfolded conformation. Sci Rep 4:4610
Iskratsch, Thomas; Yu, Cheng-Han; Mathur, Anurag et al. (2013) FHOD1 is needed for directed forces and adhesion maturation during cell spreading and migration. Dev Cell 27:545-59
Roca-Cusachs, Pere; del Rio, Armando; Puklin-Faucher, Eileen et al. (2013) Integrin-dependent force transmission to the extracellular matrix by ?-actinin triggers adhesion maturation. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 110:E1361-70
Higuchi, Sayaka; Lin, Qingsong; Wang, Jigang et al. (2013) Heart extracellular matrix supports cardiomyocyte differentiation of mouse embryonic stem cells. J Biosci Bioeng 115:320-5
Roca-Cusachs, Pere; Iskratsch, Thomas; Sheetz, Michael P (2012) Finding the weakest link: exploring integrin-mediated mechanical molecular pathways. J Cell Sci 125:3025-38
Margadant, Felix; Chew, Li Li; Hu, Xian et al. (2011) Mechanotransduction in vivo by repeated talin stretch-relaxation events depends upon vinculin. PLoS Biol 9:e1001223
Puklin-Faucher, Eileen; Sheetz, Michael P (2009) The mechanical integrin cycle. J Cell Sci 122:179-86
Cai, Yunfei; Sheetz, Michael P (2009) Force propagation across cells: mechanical coherence of dynamic cytoskeletons. Curr Opin Cell Biol 21:47-50
del Rio, Armando; Perez-Jimenez, Raul; Liu, Ruchuan et al. (2009) Stretching single talin rod molecules activates vinculin binding. Science 323:638-41
Tamada, Masako; Perez, Tomas D; Nelson, W James et al. (2007) Two distinct modes of myosin assembly and dynamics during epithelial wound closure. J Cell Biol 176:27-33

Showing the most recent 10 out of 12 publications