Round versus flat: bone cell morphology, elasticity, and mechanosensing.
There is increasing evidence that cell function and mechanical properties are closely related to morphology. However, most in vitro studies investigate flat adherent cells, which might not reflect physiological geometries in vivo. Osteocytes, the mechanosensors in bone, reside within ellipsoid containment, while osteoblasts adhere to flatter bone surfaces. It is unknown whether morphology difference, dictated by the geometry of attachment is important for cell rheology and mechanosensing. We developed a novel methodology for investigating the rheology and mechanosensitivity of bone cells under different morphologies using atomic force microscopy and our two-particle assay for optical tweezers. We found that the elastic constant of MLO-Y4 osteocytes when flat and adherent (>1 kPa) largely differed when round but partially adherent (<1 kPa). The elastic constant of round suspended MLO-Y4 osteocytes, MC3T3-E1 osteoblasts, and primary osteoblasts were similarly <1 kPa. The mechanosensitivity of round suspended MLO-Y4 osteocytes was investigated by monitoring nitric oxide (NO) release, an essential signaling molecule in bone. A preliminary observation of high NO release from round suspended MLO-Y4 osteocytes in response to approximately 5 pN force is reported here, in contrast with previous studies where flat cells routinely release lesser NO while being stimulated with higher force. Our results suggest that a round cellular morphology supports a less stiff cytoskeleton configuration compared with flat cellular morphology. This implies that osteocytes take advantage of their ellipsoid morphology in vivo to sense small strains benefiting bone health. Our assay provides novel opportunities for in vitro studies under a controlled suspended morphology versus commonly studied adherent morphologies.
Bacabac, RG; Mizuno, D; Schmidt, CF; MacKintosh, FC; Van Loon, JJWA; Klein-Nulend, J; Smit, TH
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