Contribution of intermediate filaments to cell stiffness, stiffening, and growth

Ning Wang, Dimitrije Stamenović

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It has been shown previously that intermediate filament (IF) gels in vitro exhibit stiffening at high-applied stress, and it was suggested that this stiffening property of IFs might be important for maintaining cell integrity at large deformations (Janmey PA, Evtenever V, Traub P, and Schliwa M, J Cell Biol 113: 155-160, 1991). In this study, the contribution of IFs to cell mechanical behavior was investigated by measuring cell stiffness in response to applied stress in adherent wild-type and vimentin-deficient fibroblasts using magnetic twisting cytometry. It was found that vimentin- deficient cells were less stiff and exhibited less stiffening than wild-type cells, except at the lowest applied stress (10 dyn/cm2 where the difference in the stiffness was not significant. Similar results were obtained from measurements on wild-type fibroblasts and endothelial cells after vimentin IFs were disrupted by acrylamide. If, however, cells were plated over an extended period of time (16 h), they exhibited a significantly greater stiffness before than after acrylamide, even at the lowest applied stress. A possible reason could be that the initially slack IFs became fully extended due to a high degree of cell spreading and thus centributed to the transmission of mechanical stress across the cell. Taken together, these findings were consistent with the notion that IFs play important roles in the mechanical properties of the cell during large deformation. The experimental data also showed that depleting or disrupting IFs reduced, but did not entirely abolish, cell stiffening. This residual stiffening might be attributed to the effect of geometrical realignment of cytoskeletal filaments in the direction of applied load. It was also found that vimentin-deficient cells exhibited a slower rate of proliferation and DNA synthesis than wild- type cells. This could be a direct consequence of the absence of the intracellular IFs that may be necessary for efficient mediation of mechanical signals within the cell. Taken together, results of this study suggest that IFs play important roles in the mechanical properties of cells and in cell growth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)C188-C194
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Cell Physiology
Issue number1 48-1
StatePublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes


  • Cellular mechanics
  • Cytoskeleton
  • Deoxyribonucleic acid synthesis
  • Magnetic twisting cytometry
  • Vimentin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology
  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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