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Nanopatterning reveals an ECM area threshold for focal adhesion assembly and force transmission that is regulated by integrin activation and cytoskeleton tension
Sean R. Coyer, Ankur Singh, David W. Dumbauld, David A. Calderwood, Susan W. Craig, Emmanuel Delamarche, Andrés J. García


Integrin-based focal adhesions (FA) transmit anchorage and traction forces between the cell and the extracellular matrix (ECM). To gain further insight into the physical parameters of the ECM that control FA assembly and force transduction in non-migrating cells, we used fibronectin (FN) nanopatterning within a cell adhesion-resistant background to establish the threshold area of ECM ligand required for stable FA assembly and force transduction. Integrin–FN clustering and adhesive force were strongly modulated by the geometry of the nanoscale adhesive area. Individual nanoisland area, not the number of nanoislands or total adhesive area, controlled integrin–FN clustering and adhesion strength. Importantly, below an area threshold (0.11 µm2), very few integrin–FN clusters and negligible adhesive forces were generated. We then asked whether this adhesive area threshold could be modulated by intracellular pathways known to influence either adhesive force, cytoskeletal tension, or the structural link between the two. Expression of talin- or vinculin-head domains that increase integrin activation or clustering overcame this nanolimit for stable integrin–FN clustering and increased adhesive force. Inhibition of myosin contractility in cells expressing a vinculin mutant that enhances cytoskeleton–integrin coupling also restored integrin–FN clustering below the nanolimit. We conclude that the minimum area of integrin–FN clusters required for stable assembly of nanoscale FA and adhesive force transduction is not a constant; rather it has a dynamic threshold that results from an equilibrium between pathways controlling adhesive force, cytoskeletal tension, and the structural linkage that transmits these forces, allowing the balance to be tipped by factors that regulate these mechanical parameters.


  • Accepted July 15, 2012.
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