Tensegrity, cellular biophysics, and the mechanics of living systems

Donald E. Ingber, Ning Wang, Dimitrije Stamenović

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The recent convergence between physics and biology has led many physicists to enter the fields of cell and developmental biology. One of the most exciting areas of interest has been the emerging field of mechanobiology that centers on how cells control their mechanical properties, and how physical forces regulate cellular biochemical responses, a process that is known as mechanotransduction. In this article, we review the central role that tensegrity (tensional integrity) architecture, which depends on tensile prestress for its mechanical stability, plays in biology. We describe how tensional prestress is a critical governor of cell mechanics and function, and how use of tensegrity by cells contributes to mechanotransduction. Theoretical tensegrity models are also described that predict both quantitative and qualitative behaviors of living cells, and these theoretical descriptions are placed in context of other physical models of the cell. In addition, we describe how tensegrity is used at multiple size scales in the hierarchy of life - from individual molecules to whole living organisms - to both stabilize three-dimensional form and to channel forces from the macroscale to the nanoscale, thereby facilitating mechanochemical conversion at the molecular level.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number046603
JournalReports on Progress in Physics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2014


  • biophysics
  • cells
  • tensegrity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physics and Astronomy(all)


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