Cell prestress. II. Contribution of microtubules

Dimitrije Stamenovi, Srboljub M. Mijailovich, Iva Marija Toli-Nørrelykke, Jianxin Chen, Ning Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The tensegrity model hypothesizes that cytoskeleton-based microtubules (MTs) carry compression as they balance a portion of cell contractile stress. To test this hypothesis, we used traction force microscopy to measure traction at the interface of adhering human airway smooth muscle cells and a flexible polyacrylamide gel substrate. The prediction is that if MTs balance a portion of contractile stress, then, upon their disruption, the portion of stress balanced by MTs would shift to the substrate, thereby causing an increase in traction. Measurements were done first in maximally activated cells (10 μM histamine) and then again after MTs had been disrupted (1 μM colchicine). We found that after disruption of MTs, traction increased on average by ∼13%. Because in activated cells colchicine induced neither an increase in intracellular Ca2+ nor an increase in myosin light chain phosphorylation as shown previously, we concluded that the observed increase in traction was a result of load shift from MTs to the substrate. In addition, energy stored in the flexible substrate was calculated as work done by traction on the deformation of the substrate. This result was then utilized in an energetic analysis. We assumed that cytoskeleton-based MTs are slender elastic rods supported laterally by intermediate filaments and that MTs buckle as the cell contracts. Using the postbuckling equilibrium theory of Euler struts, we found that energy stored during buckling of MTs was quantitatively consistent with the measured increase in substrate energy after disruption of MTs. This is further evidence supporting the idea that MTs are intracellular compression-bearing elements.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)C617-C624
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Cell Physiology
Issue number3 51-3
StatePublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Compression
  • Cytoskeleton
  • Energy
  • Tensegrity
  • Traction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology
  • Physiology


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