Stress-induced plasticity of dynamic collagen networks
The structure and mechanics of tissues is constantly perturbed by endogenous forces originated from cells, and at the same time regulate many important cellular functions such as migration, differentiation, and growth. Here we show that 3D collagen gels, major components of connective tissues and extracellular matrix (ECM), are significantly and irreversibly remodeled by cellular traction forces, as well as by macroscopic strains. To understand this ECM plasticity, we develop a computational model that takes into account the sliding and merging of ECM fibers. We have confirmed the model predictions with experiment. Our results suggest the profound impacts of cellular traction forces on their host ECM during development and cancer progression, and suggest indirect mechanical channels of cell-cell communications in 3D fibrous matrices.