Author(s): Ward MD, Hammer DA
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Abstract For many cell types, growth, differentiation, and motility are dependent on receptor-mediated adhesion to ligand-coated surfaces. Focal contacts are strong, specialized, adhesive connections between cell and substrate in which receptors aggregate and connect extracellular ligand to intracellular cytoskeletal molecules. In this paper, we present a mathematical model to examine how focal contact formation affects cellular adhesive strength. To calculate adhesive strength with and without focal contacts, we use a one-dimensional tape peeling analysis to determine the critical tension necessary to peel the membrane. Receptor-ligand bonds are modeled as adhesive springs. In the absence of focal contacts, we derive analytic expressions for the critical tension at low and high ligand densities and show how membrane morphology affects adhesion. Then, focal contacts are modeled as cytoplasmic nucleation centers which bind adhesion receptors. The extent of adhesive strengthening upon focal contact formation depends on the elastic rigidity of the cytoskeletal connections, which determines the structural integrity of the focal contact itself. We consider two limits to this elasticity, very weak and rigid. Rigid cytoskeletal connections give much greater attachment strengths. The dependence of attachment strength on measurable model parameters is quite different in these two limits, which suggests focal contact structure might be deduced from properly performed adhesion experiments. Finally, we compare our model to the adhesive strengthening response reported for glioma cell adhesion to fibronectin (Lotz et al., 1989. J. Cell Biol. 109:1795-1805). Our model successfully predicts the observed detachment forces at 4 degrees C and yields values for the number of fibronectin receptors per glioma cell and the density of cytoskeletal connection molecules (talin) involved in receptor clusters which are consistent with measurements for other cell types. Comparison of the model with data at 37 degrees C suggests that while cytoskeletal cross-linking and clustering of fibronectin receptors significantly increases adhesion strength, specific glioma cell-substratum attachment sites possess little mechanical rigidity and detach through a peeling mechanism, consistent with the view that these sites of < or = 15 nm cell-substrate separation are precursors to fully formed, elastically rigid focal contacts.
This article was published in Biophys J
and referenced in Journal of Biosensors & Bioelectronics