An outstanding problem in cell biology is how cells sense mechanical forces and how those forces affect cellular functions. During past decades, it has become evident that the deformable cytoskeleton (CSK), an intracellular network of various filamentous biopolymers, provides a physical basis for transducing mechanical signals into biochemical responses. To understand how mechanical forces regulate cellular functions, it is necessary to first understand how the CSK develops mechanical stresses in response to applied forces, and how those stresses are propagated through the CSK where various signaling molecules are immobilized. New experimental techniques have been developed to quantify cytoskeletal mechanics, which together with new computational approaches have given rise to new theories and models for describing mechanics of living cells. In this article, we discuss current understanding of cell biomechanics by focusing on the biophysical mechanisms that are responsible for the development and transmission of mechanical stresses in the cell and their effect on cellular functions. We compare and contrast various theories and models of cytoskeletal mechanics, emphasizing common mechanisms that those theories are built upon, while not ignoring irreconcilable differences. We highlight most recent advances in the understanding of mechanotransduction in the cytoplasm of living cells and the central role of the cytoskeletal prestress in propagating mechanical forces along the cytoskeletal filaments to activate cytoplasmic enzymes. It is anticipated that advances in cell mechanics will help developing novel therapeutics to treat pulmonary diseases like asthma, pulmonary fibrosis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)499-524
Number of pages26
JournalComprehensive Physiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)

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