Feeling Things Out: Bidirectional Signaling of the Cell–ECM Interface, Implications in the Mechanobiology of Cell Spreading, Migration, Proliferation, and Differentiation, 2020

Topics: mechanotransduction, stiffness, extracellular matrix, cytoskeleton

Authors: Andrew E. Miller, Ping Hu and Thomas H. Barker


Biophysical cues stemming from the extracellular environment are rapidly transduced into discernible chemical messages (mechanotransduction) that direct cellular activities–placing the extracellular matrix (ECM) as a potent regulator of cell behavior. Dynamic reciprocity between the cell and its associated matrix is essential to the maintenance of tissue homeostasis and dysregulation of both ECM mechanical signaling, via pathological ECM turnover, and internal mechanotransduction pathways contribute to disease progression. This review covers the current understandings of the key modes of signaling used by both the cell and ECM to coregulate one another. By taking an outside-in approach, the inherent complexities and regulatory processes at each level of signaling (ECM, plasma membrane, focal adhesion, and cytoplasm) are captured to give a comprehensive picture of the internal and external mechanoregulatory environment. Specific emphasis is placed on the focal adhesion complex which acts as a central hub of mechanical signaling, regulating cell spreading, migration, proliferation, and differentiation. In addition, a wealth of available knowledge on mechanotransduction is curated to generate an integrated signaling network encompassing the central components of the focal adhesion, cytoplasm and nucleus that act in concert to promote durotaxis, proliferation, and differentiation in a stiffness-dependent manner.

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