Physics of cell elasticity, shape, and adhesion.
Authors: S. A. Safran, N. Gov, A. Nicolas, U. S. Schwarz, and T. Tlusty.
CellNetworks People: Schwarz Ulrich
Journal: Physica A, 352:171-201, 2005.

We review recent theoretical work that analyzes experimental measurements of the shape, fluctuations and adhesion properties of biological cells. Particular emphasis is placed on the role of the cytoskeleton and cell elasticity and we contrast the shape and adhesion of elastic cells with fluid-filled vesicles. In red blood cells (RBC), the cytoskeleton consists of a twodimensional network of spectrin proteins. Our analysis of the wavevector and frequency dependence of the fluctuation spectrum of RBC indicates that the spectrin network acts as a
confining potential that reduces the fluctuations of the lipid bilayer membrane. However, since the cytoskeleton is only sparsely connected to the bilayer, one cannot regard the composite
cytoskeleton–membrane as a polymerized object with a shear modulus. The sensitivity of RBC fluctuations and shapes to ATP concentration may reflect topological defects induced in the
cytoskeleton network by ATP. The shapes of cells that adhere to a substrate are strongly determined by the cytoskeletal elasticity that can be varied experimentally by drugs that depolymerize the cytoskeleton. This leads to a tension-driven retraction of the cell body and a pearling instability of the resulting ray-like protrusions. Recent experiments have shown that adhering cells exert polarized forces on substrates. The interactions of such ‘‘force dipoles’’ in either bulk gels or on surfaces can be used to predict the nature of self-assembly of cell aggregates and may be important in the formation of artificial tissues. Finally, we note that cell adhesion strongly depends on the forces exerted on the adhesion sites by the tension of the cytoskeleton. The size and shape of the adhesion regions are strongly modified as the tension is varied and we present an elastic model that relates this tension to deformations that induce the recruitment of new molecules to the adhesion region. In all these examples, cell shape andadhesion differ from vesicle shape and adhesion due to the presence of the elastic cytoskeleton and to the fact that active processes (ATP, molecular motors) within the cell modify cytoskeletal elasticity and tension