The cytoskeleton is a complex polymer network that regulates the structural stability of living cells. Although the cytoskeleton plays a key role in many important cell functions, the mechanisms that regulate its mechanical behaviour are poorly understood. Potential mechanisms include the entropic elasticity of cytoskeletal filaments, glassy-like inelastic rearrangements of cross-linking proteins and the activity of contractile molecular motors that sets the tensional stress (prestress) borne by the cytoskeleton filaments. The contribution of these mechanisms can be assessed by studying how cell mechanics depends on temperature. The aim of this work was to elucidate the effect of temperature on cell mechanics using atomic force microscopy. We measured the complex shear modulus (G*) of human alveolar epithelial cells over a wide frequency range (0.1-25.6 Hz) at different temperatures (13-37 degrees C). In addition, we probed cell prestress by mapping the contractile forces that cells exert on the substrate by means of traction microscopy. To assess the role of actomyosin contraction in the temperature-induced changes in G* and cell prestress, we inhibited the Rho kinase pathway of the myosin light chain phosphorylation with Y-27632. Our results show that with increasing temperature, cells become stiffer and more solid-like. Cell prestress also increases with temperature. Inhibiting actomyosin contraction attenuated the temperature dependence of G* and prestress. We conclude that the dependence of cell mechanics with temperature is dominated by the contractile activity of molecular motors.
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