Mechanical cell properties play an important role in many basic biological functions, including motility, adhesion, proliferation and differentiation. There is a growing body of evidence that the mechanical cell phenotype can be used for detection and, possibly, treatment of various diseases, including cancer. Understanding of pathological mechanisms requires investigation of the relationship between constitutive properties and major structural components of cells, i.e., the nucleus and cytoskeleton. While the contribution of actin und microtubules to cellular rheology has been extensively studied in the past, the role of intermediate filaments has been scarcely investigated up to now. Here, for the first time we compare the effects of drug-induced disruption of actin and vimentin intermediate filaments on mechanical properties of suspended NK cells using high-throughput deformability measurements and computational modeling. Although, molecular mechanisms of actin and vimentin disruption by the applied cytoskeletal drugs, Cytochalasin-D and Withaferin-A, are different, cell softening in both cases can be attributed to reduction of the effective density and stiffness of filament networks. Our experimental data suggest that actin and vimentin deficient cells exhibit, in average, 41% and 20% higher deformability in comparison to untreated control. 3D Finite Element simulation is performed to quantify the contribution of cortical actin and perinuclear vimentin to mechanical phenotype of the whole cell. Our simulation provides quantitative estimates for decreased filament stiffness in drug-treated cells and predicts more than two-fold increase of the strain magnitude in the perinuclear vimentin layer of actin deficient cells relatively to untreated control. Thus, the mechanical function of vimentin becomes particularly essential in motile and proliferating cells that have to dynamically remodel the cortical actin network. These insights add functional cues to frequently observed overexpression of vimentin in diverse types of cancer and underline the role of vimentin targeting drugs, such as Withaferin-A, as a potent cancerostatic supplement.
Type of Publication:
Journal article published