Cells explore their environment by sensing and responding to mechanical forces. Many fundamental cellular processes, such as cell migration, differentiation, and homeostasis, take advantage of this sensing mechanism. At molecular level mechanosensing is mainly driven by mechanically active proteins. These proteins are able to sense and respond to forces by, e.g., undergoing conformational changes, exposing cryptic binding sites, or even by becoming more tightly bound to one another. In humans, defective responses to forces are known to cause a plethora of pathological conditions, including cardiac failure, pulmonary injury and are also linked to cancer. Microorganisms also take advantage of mechano-active proteins and proteins complexes. Employing single-molecule force spectroscopy with an atomic force microscope (AFM) and steered molecular dynamics (SMD) simulations we have investigated force propagation pathways through a mechanically active protein complexes.

Spotlight: Computational Force Microscope (May 2007)


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Mechanical forces are everywhere in human life. Strong forces power machines and cars, our body's forces let us labor and move, soft forces are sensed through touch, even softer ones through hearing. Forces are also ubiquitous in the living cell, driving its molecular machines and motors as well as signaling ongoing action in its surroundings. Man made, force bearing machines rely on extremely strong materials not found in the cell. How can the cell bear substantial forces? Also, how do cells sense extremely weak forces as in hearing, surpassing most microphones? Single molecule measurements, reviewed in a recent issue of Science, begin to answer these questions offering information on biomolecules' mechanical responses and action. However, the information offered by these measurements is not enough to relate the biomolecular function to the biomolecular architecture. Biomolecules in cells can move in amazing ways, but we did not know why. As one contribution in the Science issue demonstrates, computational modeling comes to the rescue. It can simulate the measurements and, in doing so, can reveal the physical mechanisms underlying cellular mechanics at the atomic level. In as far as observed data are available, the simulations show impressive agreement with actual measurements. While initially only following experiments or, at best, guiding experiments, modeling has advanced now further and through simulated measurements discovered on its own entirely novel mechanical properties that were later verified by experimental measurements. Experimentalists reacted to the new competition and began to do simulations themselves. More here.

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Publications Database
  • Ultrastable cellulosome-adhesion complex tightens under load. Constantin Schoeler, Klara H. Malinowska, Rafael C. Bernardi, Lukas F. Milles, Markus A. Jobst, Ellis Durner, Wolfgang Ott, Daniel B. Fried, Edward A. Bayer, Klaus Schulten, Hermann E. Gaub, and Michael A. Nash. Nature Communications, 5:5635, 2014.
  • Mapping mechanical force propagation through biomolecular complexes. Constantin Schoeler, Rafael C. Bernardi, Klara H. Malinowska, Ellis Durner, Wolfgang Ott, Edward A. Bayer, Klaus Schulten, Michael A. Nash, and Hermann E. Gaub. Nano Letters, 15:7370-7376, 2015.
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