Tensegrity II. How structural networks influence cellular information processing networks, 2003

Topics: Mechanobiology, Mechanotransduction, Biocomplexity, Bioinformatics, Integrins

Authors: Donald E. Ingber


The major challenge in biology today is biocomplexity: the need to explain how cell and tissue behaviors emerge from collective interactions within complex molecular networks. Part I of this two-part article, described a mechanical model of cell structure based on tensegrity architecture that explains how the mechanical behavior of the cell emerges from physical interactions among the different molecular filament systems that form the cytoskeleton. Recent work shows that the cytoskeleton also orients much of the cell’s metabolic and signal transduction machinery and that mechanical distortion of cells and the cytoskeleton through cell surface integrin receptors can profoundly affect cell behavior. In particular, gradual variations in this single physical control parameter (cell shape distortion) can switch cells between distinct gene programs (e.g. growth, differentiation and apoptosis), and this process can be viewed as a biological phase transition. Part II of this article covers how combined use of tensegrity and solid-state mechanochemistry by cells may mediate mechanotransduction and facilitate integration of chemical and physical signals that are responsible for control of cell behavior. In addition, it examines how cell structural networks affect gene and protein signaling networks to produce characteristic phenotypes and cell fate transitions during tissue development.

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