Long-distance propagation of forces in a cell

Ning Wang, Zhigang Suo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A fundamental question in the field of mechanotransduction is how forces propagate inside a cell. Recent experiments have shown that a force of a physiological magnitude, applied via a focal adhesion, can propagate a long distance into the cell. This observation disagrees with existing models that regard the cell as a homogeneous body. We show that this "action at a distance" results from the inhomogeneity in the cell: a prestressed and stiff actin bundle guides the propagation of forces over long distances. Our models highlight the enormous ratios of the prestress and the modulus of the actin bundle to the modulus of the cytoskeleton network. For a normal cell, the models predict that forces propagate over characteristic lengths comparable to the size of the cell. The characteristic lengths can be altered, however, by treatments of the cell. We provide experimental evidence and discuss biological implications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1133-1138
Number of pages6
JournalBiochemical and Biophysical Research Communications
Issue number4
StatePublished - Mar 25 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Cytoskeleton
  • Intermediate filaments
  • Mechanotransduction
  • Microfilaments
  • Microtubules

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Biophysics
  • Molecular Biology


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