Cellular and molecular mechanobiology


Every time we blink, move a hand, draw a breath, or walk, cells in our body exert, transmit, withstand, and detect forces. This mechanical interaction with the environment determines how cells proliferate, differentiate, and move, and regulates development, tumorigenesis or wound healing.

Artistic rendering of a cell attaching to a substrate coated with a gold nano-pattern array, used to study how cells detect spatial cues (From Oria et al. 2017, Nature)

Just like biochemical stimuli initiate signaling cascades, mechanical forces affect the links and conformation of a network of molecules connecting cells to the extracellular matrix. Our research aims precisely at unraveling the mechanisms that these molecules use to detect and respond to mechanical stimuli like forces or tissue rigidity, triggering downstream cell responses. To this end, we combine biophysical techniques like magnetic and optical tweezers, Atomic Force Microscopy, traction microscopy, and microfabricated force sensors with molecular biology, advanced optical microscopy, and theoretical modelling.

Sensing the environment: Using this multi-disciplinary approach, we have unveiled a molecular mechanism that cells employ to detect and respond to the rigidity of their environment, which could be crucial in breast tissue and breast cancer (Elosegui-Artola et al., 2016 Nat. Cell Biol., and Elosegui-Artola et al. 2014, Nature Mater.). This mechanism is mediated by what is known as a “molecular clutch”: in a surprising analogy with a car engine, cells can be understood as a molecular network that can engage and disengage from its environment, just as the clutch of a car. This affects force transmission from the environment to cells, and also within different cell components. We are also expanding on the idea of the molecular clutch, to explore how cell molecular engines sense not only mechanical rigidity, but other important parameters from their environment: for instance, the composition and distribution of ligands in the extracellular matrix, or other cells. In this regard, we uncovered that this concept can explain how cells sense the spatial distribution of ligands in the extracellular matrix (Oria et al., Nature 2017). We have also demonstrated that cell-cell force transmission, mediated by a molecular clutch, is essential for cells to sense gradients in stiffness (Sunyer et al., Science 2016, in collaboration with the group of Xavier Trepat).

Cartoon depicting how force transmission to the nucleus affects nuclear pores, leading to nuclear protein import (from Elosegui-Artola et al. 2017, Cell)

Nuclear mechanotransduction: Forces applied to cells are transmitted all the way to the cell nucleus, where they affect its function. We are studying how this force transmission affects the dynamics of transcriptional regulators, such as YAP (Elosegui-Artola et al., 2017, Cell), and how this affects cell function.

The membrane as a mechanosensor: Due to its mechanical properties, the plasma membrane itself can respond to forces and act as a mechanosensor. Recently, we have shown that cell membranes can use purely physical principles to adapt their shape in response to mechanical forces (Kosmalska et al., 2015, Nat. Commun.). We are currently studying how cells harness this physical membrane behavior to respond to signals from their environment.

Ultimately, when we determine the molecular mechanisms that communicate cells with their environment, we will understand how forces determine development when things go right, and tumor formation when they go wrong.


Video: How tissue stiffness activates cancer



Pere Roca-Cusachs Soulere | Group Leader
Anabel-Lise Le Roux | Senior Researcher
Ion Andreu Arzuaga | Postdoctoral Researcher
Amy Beedle | Postdoctoral Researcher
Laura Faure | Postdoctoral Researcher
Zanetta Zoi (Jenny) Kechagia | Postdoctoral Researcher
Mamatha Nijaguna | Postdoctoral Researcher
Jorge Oliver De La Cruz | Postdoctoral Researcher
Ignacio Viciano Gonzalo | Postdoctoral Researcher
Ona Baguer Colomer | PhD Student
Miguel González Martín | PhD Student
Ignasi Granero Moya | PhD Student
Marc Molina Jordán | PhD Student
Srivatsava Viswanadha Venkata Naga Sai | PhD Student
Susana Usieto Camín | Laboratory Technician
Aina Albajar Sigalés | Masters Student




European projects
MECHANOCONTROL · Mechanical control of biological function (2017-2022) European Commission, FET Proactive Pere Roca-Cusachs
TALVIN · Inhibiting mechanotransduction for the treatment of pancreatic cancer (2018-2021) European Commission, FET Innovation Launchpad Pere Roca-Cusachs
National projects
MECNUC · Estudio del control mecánico de la localización nuclear de proteínas (2020-2023) MINECO
Retos investigación: Proyectos I+D
Pere Roca-Cusachs
Privately-funded projects
Mech4Cancer · Enabling technologies to map nuclear mechanosensing: from organoids to tumors (2020-2023) Obra Social La Caixa
Health Research Call
Pere Roca-Cusachs
Understanding YAP-mediated mechanotransduction in pancreatic cancer (2020-2023) Fundació La Marató de TV3 Pere Roca-Cusachs
Finished projects
Desarrollo de una terapia innovadora para el tratamiento de los tumores sólidos mediante la inhibición de la mecanotransducción (2018-2020) MINECO, Subprograma Retos-Colaboración Pere Roca-Cusachs
Understanding and measuring mechanical tumor properties to improve cancer diagnosis, treatment, and survival: Application to liquid biopsies (2017-2020) Obra Social La Caixa Pere Roca-Cusachs
IMREG El sistema acoplado entre integrinas y proteínas adaptadoras como regulador mecánico del comportamiento celular (2016-2020) MINECO, Proyectos I+D Excelencia Pere Roca-Cusachs
MECHANOMEMBRANE Redes mecanoquímicas en la membrana plasmática (2017-2018) MINECO, Subprograma Estatal de Generación de Conocimiento “EUROPA EXCELENCIA” Pere Roca-Cusachs
Stromal stiffness in tumor progression (2014-2017) Fundació La Marató de TV3 Pere Roca-Cusachs
MECBIO Red de Excelencia en Mecanobiología (2014-2016) MINECO, Subprograma Estatal de Generación de Conocimiento “REDES DE EXCELENCIA” Pere Roca-Cusachs
Inhibiting mechanostransduction as a novel therapy in the treatment of solid tumors (2017-2018) Obra Social La Caixa Pere Roca-Cusachs



Click here for a list of publications by Pere Roca-Cusachs with IBEC affiliation.

Click here for a full list of publications including those affiliated to other organisations.


  • Confocal Microcopy
  • Traction Microscopy
  • Live cell fluorescence microscopy
  • Cell stretching
  • Cell culture
  • Magnetic Tweezers
  • Atomic Force Microscopy
  • Surface Micro/Nano-patterning
  • Optical tweezers


  • Dr. Nils Gauthier
    Mechanobiology Institute, Singapore
  • Prof. Miguel Ángel del Pozo
    Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Cardiovasculares (CNIC), Madrid
  • Prof. Marino Arroyo
    UPC, Barcelona
  • Prof. Ada Cavalcanti
    University of Heidelberg, Germany
  • Satyajit Mayor
    National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore, India
  • Sergi Garcia-Manyes
    King’s College, London, UK
  • Cheng Zhu
    Georgia Tech, Atlanta, USA
  • Louise Jones
    Barts Cancer Institute, London, UK
  • Aránzazu del Campo
    INM Saarbrücken, Germany
  • Johan de Rooij and Patrick Derksen
    UMC Utrecht, the Netherlands 
  • Johanna Ivaska
    University of Turku, Finland 
  • Jacco van Rheenen
    Netherlands Cancer Institute, Netherlands 
  • Isaac Almendros and Ramon Farré
    UB, Barcelona
  • Marc Martí-Renom
    CNAG, Barcelona

Clinical collaborations

  • University Medical Centre Utrecht 
  • Vall d’hebron Institute of Oncology 


Researchers discover how cellular membranes change curvature depending on BAR proteins

A team of researchers at IBEC and UPC, led by Pere Roca-Cusachs and Marino Arroyo, study how BAR proteins, a family of molecules that bind curved cellular membranes, reshape these membranes. Scientists report in the journal Nature Communications, through both experiments and modelling, the dynamics of these membrane reshaping processes that occur both in normal cells or disease scenarios.

Read more…

Bioengineering against cancer: IBEC researchers receive funding from La Caixa

IBEC researchers Elena Martínez, Xavier Trepat and Pere Roca-Cusachs aim to understand the processes that promote metastasis in colorectal cancer using innovative bioengineering tools, such as bioprinting and microscopy capable of revealing forces at the cellular level.

The results will be translated into a device that will recreate the tumor environment from cancer cells derived from patients, as well as a new technology that will allow to visualize how physical forces affect the nuclei of metastatic cells.

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Pere Roca-Cusachs joins the European elite club in biology

Pere Roca-Cusachs, group leader at the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC) and associate professor at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Barcelona (UB), has been chosen to join the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) , a prestigious network that brings together some of the most brilliant researchers in the world.

Roca-Cusachs is a pioneer in Europe in the mechanobiology field and in the study of how physical forces affect diseases such as cancer.

Read more…