Intracellular stress tomography reveals stress focusing and structural anisotropy in cytoskeleton of living cells

Shaohua Hu, Jianxin Chen, Ben Fabry, Yasushi Numaguchi, Andrew Gouldstone, Donald E. Ingber, Jeffrey J. Fredberg, James P. Butler, Ning Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We describe a novel synchronous detection approach to map the transmission of mechanical stresses within the cytoplasm of an adherent cell. Using fluorescent protein-labeled mitochondria or cytoskeletal components as fiducial markers, we measured displacements and computed stresses in the cytoskeleton of a living cell plated on extracellular matrix molecules that arise in response to a small, external localized oscillatory load applied to transmembrane receptors on the apical cell surface. Induced synchronous displacements, stresses, and phase lags were found to be concentrated at sites quite remote from the localized load and were modulated by the preexisting tensile stress (prestress) in the cytoskeleton. Stresses applied at the apical surface also resulted in displacements of focal adhesion sites at the cell base. Cytoskeletal anisotropy was revealed by differential phase lags in X vs. Y directions. Displacements and stresses in the cytoskeleton of a cell plated on poly-L-lysine decayed quickly and were not concentrated at remote sites. These data indicate that mechanical forces are transferred across discrete cytoskeletal elements over long distances through the cytoplasm in the living adherent cell.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)C1082-C1090
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Cell Physiology
Issue number5 54-5
StatePublished - Nov 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Deformation
  • Focal adhesion
  • Mechanical forces
  • Microfilament

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology
  • Physiology


Dive into the research topics of 'Intracellular stress tomography reveals stress focusing and structural anisotropy in cytoskeleton of living cells'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this