May 13, 2014
Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Professor Deborah Leckband and her team of researchers have focused on a class of proteins used by cells to grip onto their neighbors, but with that research, they discovered that the connections between cells within tissues also sense forces.
“Because adhesions between cells are essential for holding our tissues together, this cell-to-cell force sensing may be critical for regulating a wide range of cell behavior such as cell organization during embryonic development, wound healing, or lung tissues responses to pressure changes during breathing,” Leckband said.
“We are taught since high school biology that cells “smell” soluble molecules in their environment,” she said. “But we now also know that cells “feel” with force-sensing proteins on cell surfaces. This allows cells to feel how soft or hard the surrounding tissue is or to respond to changes in pressure in the lungs, for example.”
Leckband’s initial findings on this topic were published in 2010. But findings in their most recent paper reveal how the force sensing nanomachine at adhesion sites between cells converts mechanical information into biochemical signals that alter cell functions, Leckband said.
These latest findings were published recently in a paper titled “α-Catenin cytomechanics: role in cadherin-dependent adhesion and mechanotransduction” and were featured in the April 15 “In This Issue” section of the Journal of Cell Science.