Distribution and propagation of mechanical stress in simulated structurally heterogeneous tissue spheroids
The mechanical microenvironment of cells has been associated with phenotypic changes that cells undergo in three-dimensional spheroid culture formats. Radial asymmetry in mechanical stress – with compression in the core and tension at the periphery – has been analyzed by representing tissue spheroids as homogeneous visco-elastic droplets under surface tension. However, the influence of the granular microstructure of tissue spheroids in the distribution of mechanical stress in tissue spheroids has not been accounted for in a generic manner. Here, we quantify the distribution and propagation of mechanical forces in structurally heterogeneous multicellular assemblies. For this, we perform numerical simulations of a deformable cell model, which represents cells as elastic, contractile shells surrounding a liquid incompressible cytoplasm, interacting by means of non-specific adhesion. Using this model, we show how cell-scale properties such as cortical stiffness, active tension and cell–cell adhesive tension influence the distribution of mechanical stress in simulated tissue spheroids. Next, we characterize the transition at the tissue-scale from a homogeneous liquid droplet to a heterogeneous packed granular assembly.