PloS one

Fine tuning of tissues' viscosity and surface tension through contractility suggests a new role for α-catenin.

PMID 23390488


What governs tissue organization and movement? If molecular and genetic approaches are able to give some answers on these issues, more and more works are now giving a real importance to mechanics as a key component eventually triggering further signaling events. We chose embryonic cell aggregates as model systems for tissue organization and movement in order to investigate the origin of some mechanical constraints arising from cells organization. Steinberg et al. proposed a long time ago an analogy between liquids and tissues and showed that indeed tissues possess a measurable tissue surface tension and viscosity. We question here the molecular origin of these parameters and give a quantitative measurement of adhesion versus contractility in the framework of the differential interfacial tension hypothesis. Accompanying surface tension measurements by angle measurements (at vertexes of cell-cell contacts) at the cell/medium interface, we are able to extract the full parameters of this model: cortical tensions and adhesion energy. We show that a tunable surface tension and viscosity can be achieved easily through the control of cell-cell contractility compared to cell-medium one. Moreover we show that α-catenin is crucial for this regulation to occur: these molecules appear as a catalyser for the remodeling of the actin cytoskeleton underneath cell-cell contact, enabling a differential contractility between the cell-medium and cell-cell interface to take place.