Force chains in cell–cell mechanical communication

Amots Mann, Ran S. Sopher, Shahar Goren, Ortal Shelah, Oren Tchaicheeyan, Ayelet Lesman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Force chains (FCs) are a key determinant of the micromechanical properties and behaviour of heterogeneous materials, such as granular systems. However, less is known about FCs in fibrous materials, such as the networks composing the extracellular matrix (ECM) of biological systems. Using a finite-element computational model, we simulated the contraction of a single cell and two nearby cells embedded in two-dimensional fibrous elastic networks and analysed the tensile FCs that developed in the ECM. The role of ECM nonlinear elasticity on FC formation was evaluated by considering linear and nonlinear, i.e. exhibiting ‘buckling’ and/or ‘strain-stiffening’, stress–strain curves. The effect of the degree of cell contraction and network coordination value was assessed. We found that nonlinear elasticity of the ECM fibres influenced the structure of the FCs, facilitating the transition towards more distinct chains that were less branched and more radially oriented than the chains formed in linear elastic networks. When two neighbouring cells contract, a larger number of FCs bridged between the cells in nonlinear networks, and these chains had a larger effective rigidity than the chains that did not reach a neighbouring cell. These results suggest that FCs function as a route for mechanical communication between distant cells and highlight the contribution of ECM fibre nonlinear elasticity to the formation of FCs.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20190348
JournalJournal of the Royal Society Interface
Issue number159
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2019


FundersFunder number
Israel Science Foundation1474/16
Israeli Centers for Research Excellence1902/12


    • Cell–matrix interaction
    • Contractile force
    • Extracellular matrix
    • Fibrous network
    • Force chain
    • Mechanobiology


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