Nature communications

Cyclic stretching of soft substrates induces spreading and growth.

PMID 25704457


In the body, soft tissues often undergo cycles of stretching and relaxation that may affect cell behaviour without changing matrix rigidity. To determine whether transient forces can substitute for a rigid matrix, we stretched soft pillar arrays. Surprisingly, 1-5% cyclic stretching over a frequency range of 0.01-10 Hz caused spreading and stress fibre formation (optimum 0.1 Hz) that persisted after 4 h of stretching. Similarly, stretching increased cell growth rates on soft pillars comparative to rigid substrates. Of possible factors linked to fibroblast growth, MRTF-A (myocardin-related transcription factor-A) moved to the nucleus in 2 h of cyclic stretching and reversed on cessation; but YAP (Yes-associated protein) moved much later. Knockdown of either MRTF-A or YAP blocked stretch-dependent growth. Thus, we suggest that the repeated pulling from a soft matrix can substitute for a stiff matrix in stimulating spreading, stress fibre formation and growth.