Recoil after severing reveals stress fiber contraction mechanisms

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Stress fibers are cellular contractile actomyosin machines central to wound healing, shear stress response, and other processes. Contraction mechanisms have been difficult to establish because stress fibers in cultured cells typically exert isometric tension and present little kinetic activity. In a recent study, living cell stress fibers were severed with laser nanoscissors and recoiled several mm over ∼5 s. We developed a quantitative model of stress fibers based on known components and available structural information suggesting periodic sarcomeric organization similar to striated muscle. The model was applied to the severing assay and compared to the observed recoil. We conclude that the sarcomere force-length relation is similar to that of muscle with two distinct regions on the ascending limb and that substantial external drag forces act on the recoiling fiber corresponding to effective cytosolic viscosity ∼104 times that of water. This may originate from both nonspecific and specific interactions. The model predicts highly nonuniform contraction with caps of collapsed sarcomeres growing at the severed ends. A directly measurable signature of external drag is that cap length and recoil distance increase at intermediate times as t1/2. The severing data is consistent with this prediction. © 2009 by the Biophysical Society.




Stachowiak, M. R., & O’Shaughnessy, B. (2009). Recoil after severing reveals stress fiber contraction mechanisms. Biophysical Journal, 97(2), 462–471.

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