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Force propagation between epithelial cell doublets


Ruppel, Artur (2022), Force propagation between epithelial cell doublets, Dryad, Dataset,


Cell-generated forces play a major role in coordinating the large-scale behavior of cell assemblies, in particular during development, wound healing and cancer. Mechanical signals propagate faster than biochemical signals but can have similar effects, especially in epithelial tissues with strong cell-cell adhesion. However, a quantitative description of the transmission chain from force generation in a sender cell, force propagation across cell-cell boundaries, and the concomitant response of receiver cells is missing. For a quantitative analysis of this important situation, here we propose a minimal model system of two epithelial cells on an H-pattern ("cell doublet"). After optogenetically activating RhoA, a major regulator of cell contractility, in the sender cell, we measure the mechanical response of the receiver cell by traction force and monolayer stress microscopies. In general, we find that the receiver cells show an active response so that the cell doublet forms a coherent unit. However, force propagation and response of the receiver cell also strongly depend on the mechano-structural polarization in the cell assembly, which is controlled by cell-matrix adhesion to the adhesive micropattern. We find that the response of the receiver cell is stronger when the mechano-structural polarization axis is oriented perpendicular to the direction of force propagation, reminiscent of the Poisson effect in passive materials. We finally show that the same effects are at work in small tissues. Our work demonstrates that cellular organization and active mechanical response of a tissue is key to maintaining signal strength and leads to the emergence of elasticity, which means that signals are not dissipated like in a viscous system but can propagate over large distances. 


Data was acquired with a Nikon Ti2 epifluorescence microscope. The first layer of analysis was performed with a homemade TFM code and the resulting Traction Force Maps were analysed with code available on


Agence Nationale de la Recherche, Award: ANR-17-CE30–0032-01

Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, Award: SCHW 834/2-1