Tension Gauge Tether Probes for Quantifying Growth Factor Mediated Integrin Mechanics and Adhesion

Academic Article


  • Multicellular organisms rely on interactions between membrane receptors and cognate ligands in the surrounding extracellular matrix (ECM) to orchestrate multiple functions, including adhesion, proliferation, migration, and differentiation. Mechanical forces can be transmitted from the cell via the adhesion receptor integrin to ligands in the ECM. The amount and spatial organization of these cell-generated forces can be modulated by growth factor receptors, including epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR). The tools currently available to quantify crosstalk-mediated changes in cell mechanics and relate them to focal adhesions, cellular morphology, and signaling are limited. DNA-based molecular force sensors known as tension gauge tethers (TGTs) have been employed to quantify these changes. TGT probes are unique in their ability to both modulate the underlying force threshold and report piconewton scale receptor forces across the entire adherent cell surface at diffraction-limited spatial resolution. The TGT probes used here rely on the irreversible dissociation of a DNA duplex by receptor-ligand forces that generate a fluorescent signal. This allows quantification of the cumulative integrin tension (force history) of the cell. This article describes a protocol employing TGTs to study the impact of EGFR on integrin mechanics and adhesion formation. The assembly of the TGT mechanical sensing platform is systematically detailed and the procedure to image forces, focal adhesions, and cell spreading is outlined. Overall, the ability to modulate the underlying force threshold of the probe, the adhesion ligand, and the type and concentration of growth factor employed for stimulation make this a robust platform for studying the interplay of diverse membrane receptors in regulating integrin-mediated forces.
  • Published In

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Rao TC; Mattheyses AL
  • Volume

  • 2022
  • Issue

  • 180