What do cells regulate in soft tissues on short time scales?


Cells within living soft biological tissues seem to promote the maintenance of a mechanical state within a defined range near a so-called set-point. This mechanobiological process is often referred to as mechanical homeostasis. During this process, cells interact with the fibers of the surrounding extracellular matrix (ECM). It remains poorly understood, however, what individual cells actually regulate during these interactions, and how these micromechanical regulations are translated to the tissue-level to lead to what we observe as biomaterial properties. Herein, we examine this question by a combination of experiments, theoretical analysis, and computational modeling. We demonstrate that on short time scales (hours) - during which deposition and degradation of ECM fibers can largely be neglected - cells appear to not regulate the stress / strain in the ECM or their own shape, but rather only the contractile forces that they exert on the surrounding ECM.
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