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Science 322 (5908): 1687-1691

Copyright © 2008 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science

Traction Dynamics of Filopodia on Compliant Substrates

Clarence E. Chan, and David J. Odde*

Abstract: Cells sense the environment's mechanical stiffness to control their own shape, migration, and fate. To better understand stiffness sensing, we constructed a stochastic model of the "motor-clutch" force transmission system, where molecular clutches link F-actin to the substrate and mechanically resist myosin-driven F-actin retrograde flow. The model predicts two distinct regimes: (i) "frictional slippage," with fast retrograde flow and low traction forces on stiff substrates and (ii) oscillatory "load-and-fail" dynamics, with slower retrograde flow and higher traction forces on soft substrates. We experimentally confirmed these model predictions in embryonic chick forebrain neurons by measuring the nanoscale dynamics of single–growth-cone filopodia. Furthermore, we experimentally observed a model-predicted switch in F-actin dynamics around an elastic modulus of 1 kilopascal. Thus, a motor-clutch system inherently senses and responds to the mechanical stiffness of the local environment.

Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN 55455, USA.

* To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: oddex002{at}

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