Elastic Anisotropy Governs the Range of Cell-Induced Displacements

Shahar Goren, Yoni Koren, Xinpeng Xu*, Ayelet Lesman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The unique nonlinear mechanics of the fibrous extracellular matrix (ECM) facilitates long-range cell-cell mechanical communications that would be impossible for linear elastic substrates. Past research has described the contribution of two separated effects on the range of force transmission, including ECM elastic nonlinearity and fiber alignment. However, the relation between these different effects is unclear, and how they combine to dictate force transmission range is still elusive. Here, we combine discrete fiber simulations with continuum modeling to study the decay of displacements induced by a contractile cell in fibrous networks. We demonstrate that fiber nonlinearity and fiber reorientation both contribute to the strain-induced elastic anisotropy of the cell's local environment. This elastic anisotropy is a “lumped” parameter that governs the slow decay of displacements, and it depends on the magnitude of applied strain, either an external tension or an internal contraction, as a model of the cell. Furthermore, we show that accounting for artificially prescribed elastic anisotropy dictates the decay of displacements induced by a contracting cell. Our findings unify previous single effects into a mechanical theory that explains force transmission in fibrous networks. This work may provide insights into biological processes that involve communication of distant cells mediated by the ECM, such as those occurring in morphogenesis, wound healing, angiogenesis, and cancer metastasis. It may also provide design parameters for biomaterials to control force transmission between cells as a way to guide morphogenesis in tissue engineering.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1152-1164
Number of pages13
JournalBiophysical Journal
Issue number5
StatePublished - 10 Mar 2020


FundersFunder number
Weizmann Institute of Science
Israel Science Foundation1474/16
Tel Aviv University
Israeli Centers for Research Excellence1902/12
Guangdong Province Higher Vocational Colleges and Schools Pearl River Scholar Funded Scheme


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