Biomechanical regulation of mesenchymal cell function

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Abstract

Purpose of review

Cells of mesenchymal origin are strongly influenced by their biomechanical environment. They also help to shape tissue architecture and reciprocally influence tissue mechanical environments through their capacity to deposit, remodel, and resorb extracellular matrix and to promote tissue vascularization. Although mechanical regulation of cell function and tissue remodeling has long been appreciated in other contexts, the purpose of this review is to highlight the increasing appreciation of its importance in fibrosis and hypertrophic scarring.

Recent findings

Experiments in both animal and cellular model systems have demonstrated pivotal roles for the biomechanical environment in regulating myofibroblast differentiation and contraction, endothelial barrier function and angiogenesis, and mesenchymal stem cell fate decisions. Through these studies, a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms transducing the biomechanical environment is emerging, with prominent and interacting roles recently identified for key network components including transforming growth factor-β/SMAD, focal adhesion kinase, MRTFs, Wnt/β-catenin and YAP/TAZ signaling pathways.

Summary

Progress in understanding biomechanical regulation of mesenchymal cell function is leading to novel approaches for improving clinical outcomes in fibrotic diseases and wound healing. These approaches include interventions aimed at modifying the tissue biomechanical environment, and efforts to target mesenchymal cell activation by, and reciprocal interactions with, the mechanical environment.

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