Brushes, cables, and anchors: Recent insights into multiscale assembly and mechanics of cellular structural networks

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The remarkable ability of living cells to sense, process, and respond to mechanical stimuli in their environment depends on the rapid and efficient interconversion of mechanical and chemical energy at specific times and places within the cell. For example, application of force to cells leads to conformational changes in specific mechanosensitive molecules which then trigger cellular signaling cascades that may alter cellular structure, mechanics, and migration and profoundly influence gene expression. Similarly, the sensitivity of cells to mechanical stresses is governed by the composition, architecture, and mechanics of the cellular cytoskeleton and extracellular matrix (ECM), which are in turn driven by molecular-scale forces between the constituent biopolymers. Understanding how these mechanochemical systems coordinate over multiple length and time scales to produce orchestrated cell behaviors represents a fundamental challenge in cell biology. Here, we review recent advances in our understanding of these complex processes in three experimental systems: the assembly of axonal neurofilaments, generation of tensile forces by actomyosin stress fiber bundles, and mechanical control of adhesion assembly.

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