Jump to main content
Jump to site search
PLANNED MAINTENANCE Close the message box

Scheduled maintenance work on Wednesday 27th March 2019 from 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM (GMT).

During this time our website performance may be temporarily affected. We apologise for any inconvenience this might cause and thank you for your patience.

Issue 37, 2014
Previous Article Next Article

Active mechanics and dynamics of cell spreading on elastic substrates

Author affiliations


The spreading area of cells has been shown to play a central role in the determination of cell fate and tissue morphogenesis; however, a clear understanding of how spread cell area is determined is still lacking. The observation that cell area and force generally increase with substrate rigidity suggests that cell area is dictated mechanically, by means of a force-balance between the cell and the substrate. A simple mechanical model, corroborated by experimental measurements of cell area and force is presented to analyze the temporal force balance between the cell and the substrate during spreading. The cell is modeled as a thin elastic disc that is actively pulled by lamellipodia protrusions at the cell front. The essential molecular mechanisms of the motor activity at the cell front, including, actin polymerization, adhesion kinetics, and the actin retrograde flow, are accounted for and used to predict the dynamics of cell spreading on elastic substrates; simple, closed-form expressions for the evolution of cell size and force are derived. Time-resolved, traction force microscopy, combined with measurements of cell area are performed to investigate the simultaneous variations of cell size and force. We find that cell area and force increase simultaneously during spreading but the force develops with an apparent delay relative to the increase in cell area. We demonstrate that this may reflect the strain-stiffening property of the cytoskeleton. We further demonstrate that the radial cell force is a concave function of spreading speed and that this may reflect the strengthening of cell–substrate adhesions during spreading.

Graphical abstract: Active mechanics and dynamics of cell spreading on elastic substrates

Back to tab navigation

Supplementary files

Publication details

The article was received on 10 Apr 2014, accepted on 01 Jul 2014 and first published on 08 Aug 2014

Article type: Paper
DOI: 10.1039/C4SM00780H
Citation: Soft Matter, 2014,10, 7234-7246

  •   Request permissions

    Active mechanics and dynamics of cell spreading on elastic substrates

    N. Nisenholz, K. Rajendran, Q. Dang, H. Chen, R. Kemkemer, R. Krishnan and A. Zemel, Soft Matter, 2014, 10, 7234
    DOI: 10.1039/C4SM00780H

Search articles by author