IBEC at the forefront of research in mechanobiology

Today three IBEC group leaders – Pere Roca-Cusachs, Vito Conte and Xavier Trepat – consolidate the institute’s leadership in mechanobiology by publishing a review of the field in Nature Cell Biology.

Their paper, “Quantifying forces in cell biology”, summarizes a wide range of sensors and sensing methods able to quantify the forces generated by cells. During the last two decades, advances in our understanding of these mechanisms have allowed researchers to find out more about cell-generated forces at different scales, ranging from molecular forces – how a protein domain folds – to long-range supra-cellular force patterns such as the ones that govern wound healing or collective cell migration.

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Above: Two cell biology techniques for quantifying force at two different scales. Top, traction and stress maps of the collective migration of an epithelial sheet. Bottom, the force exerted by a single actin fiber in the cell cytoskeleton is examined using laser ablation.

The new tools and techniques that are enabling scientists to uncover new knowledge about these forces – which include specialised types of microscopy, or ablation using lasers – have reshaped our way of conceiving cellular biology and mechanobiology as distinct sciences. We used to think that they merely trigger mechanotransduction, the process through which cells sense and respond to mechanical stimuli by converting them to biochemical signals. Now, though, we know that these forces can combine into mechanisms to spread and transfer information, not only within single cells but also across entire tissues. The new knowledge is a step in the right direction towards a full understanding of cell function in the body.

Nature Cell Biology also featured the findings of ICREA professor Xavier Trepat, who’s also an Associate Professor at the University of Barcelona, on the role of mechanics in cancer metastasis invasion in February.

Pere Roca-Cusachs, Vito Conte and Xavier Trepat (2017). Quantifying forces in cell biology. Nature Cell Biology, 19, 7

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