Adhesions are multi-molecular complexes that transmit forces generated by a cell's acto-myosin networks to external substrates. While the physical properties of some of the individual components of adhesions have been carefully characterized, the mechanics of the coupling between the cytoskeleton and the adhesion site as a whole are just beginning to be revealed. We characterized the mechanics of nascent adhesions mediated by the immunoglobulin-family cell adhesion molecule apCAM, which is known to interact with actin filaments. Using simultaneous visualization of actin flow and quantification of forces transmitted to apCAM-coated beads restrained with an optical trap, we found that adhesions are dynamic structures capable of transmitting a wide range of forces. For forces in the picoNewton scale, the nascent adhesions' mechanical properties are dominated by an elastic structure which can be reversibly deformed by up to 1 µm. Large reversible deformations rule out an interface between substrate and cytoskeleton that is dominated by a number of stiff molecular springs in parallel, and favor a compliant cross-linked network. Such a compliant structure may increase the lifetime of a nascent adhesion, facilitating signaling and reinforcement.
Mejean, C. O., Schaefer, A. W., Buck, K. B., Kress, H., Shundrovsky, A., Merrill, J. W., … Forscher, P. (2013). Elastic Coupling of Nascent apCAM Adhesions to Flowing Actin Networks. PLoS ONE, 8(9). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0073389