Force sensing and generation in cell phases: Analyses of complex functions

Hans Günther Döbereiner, Benjamin J. Dubin-Thaler, Gregory Giannone, Michael P. Sheetz

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


Cellular morphology is determined by motility, force sensing, and force generation that must be finely controlled in a dynamic fashion. Contractile and extensile functions are integrated with the overall cytoskeleton, including linkages from the cytoplasmic cytoskeleton to the extracellular matrix and other cells by force sensing. During development, as cells differentiate, variations in protein expression levels result in morphological changes. There are two major explanations for motile behavior: either cellular motility depends in a continuous fashion on cell composition or it exhibits phases wherein only a few protein modules are activated locally for a given time. Indeed, in support of the latter model, the quantification of cell spreading and other motile activities shows multiple distinct modes of behavior, which we term "phases" because there exist abrupt transitions between them. Cells in suspension have a basal level of motility that enables them to probe their immediate environment. After contacting a matrix-coated surface, they rapidly transition to an activated spreading phase. After the development of a significant contact area, the cells contract repeatedly to determine the rigidity of the substrate and then develop force on matrix contacts. When cells are fully spread, extension activity is significantly decreased and focal complexes start to assemble near the cell periphery. For each of these phases, there are significant differences in protein activities, which correspond to differences in function. Thus overall morphological change of a tissue is driven by chemical signals and force-dependent activation of one or more motile phases in limited cell regions for defined periods.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1542-1546
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Applied Physiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Cellular processes
  • Dynamic phase transitions
  • Extracellular matrix

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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