Experimental tests of the cellular tensegrity hypothesis

Dimitrije Stamenović, Srboljub M. Mijailovich, Iva Marija Tolić-Nørrelykke, Ning Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The tensegrity model depicts the cytoskeleton (CSK) as a prestressed network of interconnected filaments. The prestress is generated by the CSK contractile apparatus and is partly balanced by traction at the cell-substrate interface and partly by CSK internal compression elements such as microtubules (MTs). A key feature of tensegrity is that the shear modulus (G) must increase in proportion with the prestress. Here we have tested that prediction as well as the idea that compression of MTs balance a portion of the cell prestress. Airway smooth muscle cells were studied. Traction microscopy was used to calculate traction. Because traction must be balanced by the stress within the cell, the prestress could be computed. Cell G was measured by oscillatory magnetic cytometry. The prestress was modulated using graded concentrations of contracting (histamine) or relaxing (isoproterenol) agonists and by disrupting MTs by colchicine. It was found that G increased in proportion with the prestress and that compression of MTs balanced a significant, but a relatively small fraction of the prestress. Taken together, these results do not disprove other models of cell deformability, nor they prove tensegrity. However, they do support a priori predictions of tensegrity. As such, it may not be necessary to invoke more complex mechanisms to explain these central features of cell deformability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)221-225
Number of pages5
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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