CellFIT: a cellular force-inference toolkit using curvilinear cell boundaries.

Brodland GW, Veldhuis JH, Kim S, Perrone M, Mashburn D, Hutson MS
PLoS One. 2014 9 (6): e99116

PMID: 24921257 · PMCID: PMC4055627 · DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0099116

Mechanical forces play a key role in a wide range of biological processes, from embryogenesis to cancer metastasis, and there is considerable interest in the intuitive question, "Can cellular forces be inferred from cell shapes?" Although several groups have posited affirmative answers to this stimulating question, nagging issues remained regarding equation structure, solution uniqueness and noise sensitivity. Here we show that the mechanical and mathematical factors behind these issues can be resolved by using curved cell edges rather than straight ones. We present a new package of force-inference equations and assessment tools and denote this new package CellFIT, the Cellular Force Inference Toolkit. In this approach, cells in an image are segmented and equilibrium equations are constructed for each triple junction based solely on edge tensions and the limiting angles at which edges approach each junction. The resulting system of tension equations is generally overdetermined. As a result, solutions can be obtained even when a modest number of edges need to be removed from the analysis due to short length, poor definition, image clarity or other factors. Solving these equations yields a set of relative edge tensions whose scaling must be determined from data external to the image. In cases where intracellular pressures are also of interest, Laplace equations are constructed to relate the edge tensions, curvatures and cellular pressure differences. That system is also generally overdetermined and its solution yields a set of pressures whose offset requires reference to the surrounding medium, an open wound, or information external to the image. We show that condition numbers, residual analyses and standard errors can provide confidence information about the inferred forces and pressures. Application of CellFIT to several live and fixed biological tissues reveals considerable force variability within a cell population, significant differences between populations and elevated tensions along heterotypic boundaries.

MeSH Terms (8)

Algorithms Animals Cell Communication Cell Shape Humans Mechanical Phenomena Models, Biological Software

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