Fibroblast traction as a mechanism for collagen morphogenesis.
To make visible the traction forces exerted by individuals cells, we have previously developed a method of culturing them on thin distortable sheets of silicone rubber. We have now used this method to compare the forces exerted by various differentiated cell types and have examined the effects of cellular traction on re-precipitated collagen-matrices. We find that the strength of cellular traction differs greatly between cell types and this traction is paradoxically weakest in the most mobile and invasive cells (leukocytes and nerve growth cones). Untransformed fibroblasts exert forces very much larger than those actually needed for locomotion. This strong traction distorts collagen gels dramatically, creating patterns similar to tendons and organ capsules. We propose that this morphogenetic rearrangement of extracellular matrices is the primary function of fibroblast traction and explains its excessive strength.